Avid Gamer Alex Michelsen Enjoys Breakthrough Year On Tennis Court

Alex Michelsen (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON, December 13, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Alex Michelsen of the United States finished the 2023 season ranked No. 97. It was the culmination of a breakthrough year for the 19-year-old American, who made the biggest jump into the ATP’s year-end Top 100 this year. He rose 504 spots from the 2022 year-end to the 2023 year-end rankings, going from No. 601 to No. 97. Not bad for someone who began playing tennis at age three by hitting backhands in the family garage.

At the start of this year, Michelsen finished runner-up in Malibu, Calif. and won a title at Edmond, Okla., on the ITF World Tennis Tour while compiling a 16-3 record. Soon after, he moved up to the ATP Challenger Tour and went 18-9, and advanced to his first final in Rome, Georgia. Then, he made his ATP Tour main draw debut in Mallorca as a lucky loser (losing to eventual champion Christopher Eubanks in three sets).

Later, after Michelsen won his first ATP Challenger Tour title in Chicago, in just his second ATP Tour main draw he reached the final at Newport, R.I., and scored victories along the way over the defending champ Maxime Cressy in the first round and four-time winner John Isner in the semifinals. He had become the youngest American to reach an ATP Tour final at 18 years, 10 months. After the two tournaments, his ranking soared from No. 250 to No. 140. He went on to receive a wild card into the US Open and beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the first round before losing to Nicolas Jarry in the second round.

Afterward, Michelsen won a Challenger event in Knoxville, Tenn. and was a finalist at another one in Champaign, Ill. He finished with a 33-14 record on the Challenger Tour.

By the end of 2023, Michelsen qualified for the Next Gen ATP Finals as the No. 4 seed. Although he didn’t win any matches – losing to Luca Van Assche, Abdullah Shelbayh and eventual champ Hamad Medjedovic in group play – it was a valuable experience for the native of Laguna Hills, Calif.

When Michelsen was asked by the ATP Tour website what was the biggest thing he learned from competing on both the Challenger Tour and ATP Tour this year, after a successful season to qualify for Jeddah, he said: Playing both, everyone’s good. Everyone can play in the Challengers and on Tour and it’s really tough. You’ve just got to get ready for every match and expect everyone to bring their best.”

Michelsen, who comes from an athletic family – both his father Erik and mother Sondra were collegiate tennis players – says in his ATP biography that his mother inspired him the most. “She taught me how to play and I was hitting with her almost every day until I was 15 or 16. My earliest Tennis memory was when I was four and it started raining and I was crying to her because I couldn’t play,” he said.

While French favorite Gaël Monfils is Michelsen’s tennis idol and Paris is his favorite city on tour, he considers Wimbledon to be his favorite tournament. He further states that winning the 2022 Wimbledon boys’ doubles title with fellow American Sebastian Gorzny has had the biggest impact on his young career. “Holding a Wimbledon trophy, even juniors, was super cool for me. I never thought it would happen. By far my favorite moment in tennis,” he said.

And what might Michelsen have done if tennis hadn’t planned out for him? “I feel like I would have been a professional gamer because I was really good at video games growing up,” he said, noting his perfect day would include playing video games for about 10 hours. “So, I would have been a good gamer. I was really good at Fortnite back in the day.”

Sam Stosur appointed Australia’s BJK Cup team captain

Eight-time major champion Sam Stosur has been named as Australia’s Billie Jean King Cup team captain. She takes over the reins from Alicia Molik, who led the Aussies for 10 years and twice guided them to the finals in 2019 and 2022 and is shifting to become the Adelaide International tournament director.

Stosur made her BJK Cup debut in singles for Australia in 2003 as a 19-year-old, when it was known as the Fed Cup. Molik was her teammate.

“I’ve got years of playing experience and one thing that I know is how the girls feel when you walk out on the court to play for Australia,” Stosur told the Tennis Australia website. “I know that feeling of doing it for the first time.

“You can’t really explain until you’re in that situation to know what it’s going to feel like going on a court to play in Billie Jean King Cup, compared to a normal tournament — even the first time playing the Australian Open. It really, truly is a different experience.”

Stosur compiled an Australian record of 29 singles victories plus a 10-1 record in doubles during her BJK Cup playing career. She played in a total of 34 ties and was a combined 39-21.

Jose Higueras named recipient of 2023 Tim Gullikson Career Coach Award

Jose Higueras, who during his coaching career worked with tennis greats Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Roger Federer, has been named the 2023 recipient of the Tim Gullikson Career Coach Award. The 70-year-old Spaniard is the third coach to receive the award named after the late Tim Gullikson, which showcases someone who has inspired generations of young tennis players and fellow coaches to grow the sport.

Higueras coached Chang to his 1989 French Open title, when the American was just 17, and also spent time with Jennifer Capriati and Mary Joe Fernandez.

Previous award winners include Australians Tony Roche (2019) and Bob Brett (2020).

Chris Evert begins chemotherapy after ovarian cancer returns

Hall of Famer Chris Evert shared that she has begun chemotherapy after ovarian cancer returned. Evert, an 18-time major singles champion and longtime ESPN tennis analyst, will miss Australian Open coverage but plans to be ready for the rest of the Grand Slam season.

Evert made the announcement 11 months after she was declared cancer free.

“While this is a diagnosis I never wanted to hear, I once again feel fortunate that it was caught early,” Evert said in a statement shared by ESPN last Friday. “Based on a PET CT scan, I underwent another robotic surgery this past week. Doctors found cancer cells in the same pelvic region. All cells were removed, and I have begun another round of chemotherapy.

“I encourage everyone to know your family history and advocate for yourself.”

What they’re writing

Reem Abulleil of The National News interviewed ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi at the recent Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah about plans to expand in Saudi Arabia, his “OneVision” strategy and the threat of a possible civil war in tennis.

Passing shots

The United States will host Belgium in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals Qualification April 12-13 at the USTA National Campus in Orlando Fla. The winner of the best-of-5 series will advance to the 2024 Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

Meanwhile, a sandwich board seen outside a London cafe last week promoted a special Jannik Sinner pizza.

By the numbers

France’s Alizé Cornet will play her record 68th consecutive major at the Australian Open next month. The 116th-ranked Frenchwoman, 33, was given a reciprocal wild card into the main draw of the first Grand Slam of 2024.

“Quotable …”

“Men’s Wimbledon final, Alcaraz and Djokovic. Their match in Cincinnati might have been a better match, in some ways because of the crazy twists and turns, but there’s nothing as big as Wimbledon — nothing as prime time as that. You couldn’t take your eyes off of it. Alcaraz basically stopped a Grand Slam — and barely — 6-4 in the fifth. If he hadn’t won that second-set tiebreaker, I don’t think he would have won the match. …

“I don’t think it was quite the quality of the greatest of the great 2008 Wimbledon final with Federer and Nadal or 1980 with Borg and McEnroe. But it was awfully good. A rising champion against the great champion is a terrific plot line, storyline. There was so much anticipation about that match and it delivered.”

Christopher Clarey, author of The Master, appearing this week on The Tennis Podcast, in describing his pick for Tennis Match of the Year.