Michelsen's magnificent rise: 'I'm really proud of myself'
Alex Michelsen is one of the best players in the world competing at the highest level of the sport. Yet Saturday morning, the 19-year-old was slipping and sliding on the green clay of the Delray Beach Tennis Centre having a blast playing doubles points with 10-and-under players wielding a tiny junior racquet.
Michelsen is No. 75 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and one of the quickest-rising stars in the sport. But the American remains a kid at heart and is not allowing his ascent to change his nature.
“I'm still the kid I was three years ago, before I was any good at tennis,” Michelsen told ATPTour.com. “I feel like I haven't changed too much and I don't want to change at all.”
Michelsen is in Florida to compete in the Delray Beach Open for the first time. Last February when the event took place, he had just cracked the world’s Top 500. The year before, he did not own a Pepperstone ATP Ranking.
But the venue is plenty familiar to Michelsen. Two and a half years ago, he competed in Delray Beach at the USTA Boys 18 National Clay Court Championships. Then 16, Michelsen was eliminated early in singles, but won his first USTA ball by reaching the doubles final with Conrad Brown.
“When I got here last night, it was like, ‘Wow, I'm really back here’,” Michelsen said. “It's been two and a half years. I was kind of thinking about all the stuff I've done the last two and a half years, and I'm really proud of myself.”
When Michelsen played the clay-court nationals in Delray Beach, playing professional tennis was not on the radar.
“I wasn't dead set on being pro until like a year ago. And then when I got to like 270 I was like, ‘Okay, I'm gonna be a pro’,” Michelsen said. “I kind of convinced myself even though I wasn't at that level yet. I know where I was a year ago, two years ago. It's crazy how far I've come. I'm really happy with the journey.”
Michelsen had planned to play college tennis at the University of Georgia. But his results last season made turning pro too hard to pass up. The American has enjoyed being able to travel the world, see new places and continue his climb. Still a teen, he already has plenty of stories to share with family and friends.
“I played the Nottingham Challenger [in June]. I lost, so I went up to play Ilkley on grass over the summer. I was ranked like 260, 250. I didn't get into qualies,” Michelsen said. “So we were like, ‘Okay, what do we do?’ I was going to play the Mallorca 250 the next week, so what do we do? Do we go train for a couple of days?
“We were just like oh there's a Challenger in France and we kind of laughed about it. We were already on the train going south. It was like, might as well just keep going. And we just took a train for 16 hours and we got down there and I had to play the next day.”
Michelsen qualified and lost in the first round of the main draw. But less than a month later, he won his first ATP Challenger Tour event in Chicago. The next week, he advanced to his maiden ATP Tour final in Newport. Soon thereafter the Californian turned pro and it has been a rollercoaster since, including a trip to the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah.
Last month, Michelsen enjoyed his best result at a major yet when he made the third round of the Australian Open on his professional debut at the event.
“To be honest the moment it kind of set in was honestly down in Australia. Obviously, I've been doing it for a long time playing tournaments. I feel like I've been everywhere,” Michelsen said. “But I feel like after I won my first couple of rounds in Australia I was like, ‘Wow, I'm a professional. Wow, I'm pretty good.’ So I think that was my big like, ‘Aha!’ moment for sure.”