#NextGenATP Q1 Review: Shelton, Fils Enjoy Strong Starts To Season
The first quarter of the 2023 ATP Tour season marked breakthrough runs, career-best wins and titles on the ATP Challenger Tour for many #NextGenATP stars.
American Ben Shelton advanced to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, while Frenchman Arthur Fils reached tour-level semi-finals in Montpellier and Marseille, respectively. Swiss lefty Dominic Stricker and Frenchmen Luca Van Assche and Arthur Cazaux have tasted success, lifting trophies at ATP Challenger Tour events.
NextGenATPFinals.com looks at some of the most notable #NextGenATP accomplishments of the year so far.
Shelton’s Stunning Start
American Shelton has enjoyed a standout start to the season, rising from No. 96 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings to a current career-high No. 39 following a series of impressive results.
The 20-year-old ended 2022 by winning three consecutive ATP Challenger Tour titles and carried his red-hot form into 2023 when he arrived in Australia and New Zealand. Shelton defeated Sebastian Baez to earn his first tour-level win of the season in Auckland before he made waves at the Australian Open. The talented lefty advanced to the quarter-finals on debut in Melbourne, defeating Zhang Zhizhen, Nicolas Jarry, Alexei Popyrin and J.J. Wolf.
“I definitely exceeded my expectations this week, what I thought I could do on the court — not just tennis-wise but physically being able to get through as many three-out-of-five-set matches as I did,” Shelton reflected after his quarter-final loss against Tommy Paul. “I mean, I've only played one before in my career. I was pretty pleased with myself in that aspect as well.”
Shelton then returned to home soil and continued to impress, defeating Fabio Fognini in the first round in Indian Wells to earn the third ATP Masters 1000 match win of his career.
Frenchmen On The Charge
Fils arrived at the ATP 250 event in Montpellier in February having never won a tour-level match. Fast forward two weeks and the 18-year-old had earned five victories on Tour. Fils showcased his powerful game to the French crowd with victories against Richard Gasquet and Roberto Bautista Agut in Montpellier, before he downed former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka en route to the semi-finals in Marseille.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Fils after defeating the Swiss star. “I was watching him [Wawrinka] play during all my young career. I was hitting in Bercy with him as a sparring partner, and now I beat him. It’s a long way, a long way for my coach and my family, but it’s not over yet and I want to enjoy more. My progress is] fast, but I can be faster, so I will try to be.”
Van Assche and Cazaux also made their mark, rising to fifth and sixth respectively in the Pepperstone ATP Next Gen Race. The 18-year-old Van Assche won the second ATP Challenger Tour title of his career in France, while the 20-year-old Cazaux triumphed at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Thailand.
Stricker & Michelsen In Early Contention
The 20-year-old lefty Stricker reached the semi-finals at the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2022 and has made a strong start to 2023 as he aims to compete at the 21-and-under event again. The Swiss has had success on the ATP Challenger Tour this year, winning a trophy in Italy before advancing to the semi-finals at an event in Switzerland.
American Alex Michelsen began the year outside the Top 600 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, but reached a career-high No. 306 in March after winning one ITF World Tour event and reaching the semi-finals at an ATP Challenger Tour tournament in North America.
Others To Watch
Chinese star Shang Juncheng, who is the son of two professional athletes, made a roaring start to the season when he came through qualifying to reach the second round at the Australian Open.
The 18-year-old is coached by Dante Bottini, who first laid eyes on the World No. 181 when he was 15 years old.
“Very nice. Amazing player,” Bottini told ATPTour.com when explaining his first memories of Shang. “I mean obviously he was very young, but I already could tell that he had great potential.”
The 21-year-old Swiss Leandro Riedi rounds out the Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Next Gen Race. He reached the second round in Marseille in February, falling to Hubert Hurakcaz in three sets.