Both 19-year-olds advance in four sets

Arthur Fils continued his strong start to the 2024 season with a debut victory on Tuesday at the Australian Open. The #NextGenATP Frenchman defeated Jiri Vesely 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3, turning the opening-round match around with a late surge in the second set.

Fils, who reached the Next Gen ATP Finals title match to close 2023, opened the new year with a quarter-final run in Hong Kong and a semi-final showing in Auckland. The 19-year-old awaits 28th seed Tallon Griekspoor, who defeated Wimbledon quarter-finalist Roman Safiullin 7-5 in the fifth set.

Fils has now won six matches in the early days of 2024, having reached the quarter-finals in Hong Kong (where he took a set off Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals) and the semi-finals in Auckland. In the off-season he enjoyed a training block with Rafael Nadal in Kuwait.

“I’ve found my rhythm, my confidence is up and I’m playing better and better,” Fils said.

“It was unbelievable, a really nice experience,” the No. 34 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings said of his time with Nadal “He showed me that even in practice he’s going 100 per cent every time. He’s going full, full, full, not taking any rest. He’s always fighting. We did a lot of points and even in practice he wants to fight. I learned a lot and I’m trying to do the same on the court now."

Vesely created just two break points in the two-hour, 45-minute match. He converted on his first in the opening set but Fils denied him early in the fourth set to begin his closing charge. The Frenchman won his last 15 service points to wrap up the match with three love holds.

Alex Michelsen also earned a debut win on Tuesday in Melbourne, beating Aussie James McCabe 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The American, who also competed at the 2023 Next Gen ATP Finals, picked up his first tour-level win of 2023 after successful qualifying campaigns in Brisbane and Auckland.

Alex Michelsen
Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images

Rising to the challenge at the biggest moments against the home favourite McCabe, Michelsen cashed in on six of his eight break chances while saving eight of 11 break points against him — despite being out-aced, eight to 13.

After surrendering a 4-0 lead in the first set, Michelsen let the Australian crowd into the match and found himself in deep trouble in the first-set tie-break before showing maturity to sneak away with the set.

"The first set was a little tight and I wasn't managing my nerves correctly,” he said. “It was my first time playing in front of a crowd like that. As the Australian everyone was cheering for him and I felt really alone.

"I was down 5/2 in the tie-break but I just told myself to believe and I found a way to win that ‘breaker. Had I not won that set, I think that would have been trouble for me. It was a crucial moment."

Michelsen added that he is drawing confidence from his fellow Next Gen ATP players, most recently Croatian 18-yar-old Dino Prizmic, who pushed 10-time defending champion Novak Djokovic to four sets on Sunday night.

"I watched a good bit of it," Michelsen said. "I beat Dino here in juniors a couple of years ago in a warm-up tournament. It's good to see him playing well."

Michelsen's next opponent will be 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up and newly minted Adelaide champion Jiri Lehecka, the 32nd seed in the men's singles draw.