Second seeds starts strong in Red Group

Luca Van Assche joined fellow Frenchman Arthur Fils as a first-day winner at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM, but only after a physical four-set win over Jordan’s Abdullah Shelbayh Tuesday in Jeddah.

After splitting the first two sets that were filled with punishing, extended baseline exchanges, the tournament’s second seed broke clear of Shelbayh in the third and ultimately closed out the match 4-3(5), 3-4(5), 4-1, 4-1 as Shelbayh's movement was impacted by cramps in his right quad later in the match.

Shelbayh thrilled enthusiastic local Jeddah fans with his creative angles, net approaches and regular drop shots, but Van Assche’s slight edge in the backcourt was telling. Shelbayh also paid the price for converting just two of 17 break points.

“It was a tough match today, against a very tough opponent. I know Abdullah very well, he’s an amazing player," Van Assche said. "He was almost at home with the crowd cheering for him. It was a good match for me and really tough from the beginning to the end.”

“It’s very difficult to not have a warm up before the match, so I just hit a couple of balls before in the second court.”

Shelbayh clipped 28 winners to Van Assche's 17, but his 34 unforced errors proved costly, as did his cramping, which he attributed in part to the tension of the moment.

"With the importance of the moment and thinking that I had my chances against the top seed in my group, and knowing that I had great fan support as the only Arab player here, that had something to do with the cramping," Shelbayh said. "I just have to find a way to not let that happen in big moments again.

"The shot clock in terms of timing between serves and the shorter points was interesting, although it didn't really affect me because I don't take too much time between points. The free fan movement and noise during points is a little different, but we know the rules are unique to this tournament and we all play by them."

Physicality Index Insights
This was by far the most physical match so far of the tournament, although only four sets. Van Assche’s physicality index was heavily driven by acceleration/deceleration activity. Van Assche hit 98% of the highest work load (1161) seen across the 2021 and 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals and performed 30% more explosive movements (530 vs. 408) than Shelbayh over the course of the match.

The first two sets were the most physical of the tournament so far. If the first two sets had been repeated for a four-set match, the match Physicality Index would have been 10 for Van Assche and 9.7 for Shelbayh. Van Assche covered 1.21 km in the first two sets, which was almost as much distance as Stricker covered in his four-set match. In closing out the match in the forth set, Van Assche doubled Shelbayh in high speed distance (60 to 31m) and explosive movements (151 to 63).

Learn more about the Physicality Index