Frenchman Fils into Next Gen final
Arthur Fils became the first Frenchman to reach the championship match at the Next Gen ATP Finals with a 2-4, 4-1, 4-3 (7/1), 4-3 (8/6) victory over compatriot Luca Van Assche on Friday.
In a rematch of the 2021 Roland Garros junior final, Fils avenged his defeat from two years ago to book a title showdown against Serbia's Hamad Medjedovic, who advanced to the final when Swiss opponent Dominic Stricker retired with a back injury while trailing 3-4 (5/7), 1-2.
It was Fils's fourth victory from four matches contested at King Abdullah Sports City this week, and he has gone 12-4 in sets so far at the 21-and-under tournament.
The 19-year-old, who hit a career-high ranking of 36 in October after capturing a maiden ATP title in Lyon in May, will be looking to wrap up a breakthrough 2023 with more silverware when he takes on Medjedovic in the final on Saturday.
"I have a very, very tough final to play against Hamad. We have known each other for a long time, we played juniors together so I know that he has an unbelievable serve. He has the fastest serve of the tournament so it's going to be a tough one," said Fils of the 20-year-old Medjedovic, who has struck a tournament-leading 50 aces so far through four matches.
"I think if I play my game it's going to be a good match for sure because with his tennis and with my tennis, we’re all together playing bombs. He's a nice guy and I hope next year will be a very good one for him, but not tomorrow I hope."
The first two Frenchmen to reach the semis in the six-year history of the Next Gen ATP Finals tournament, Fils and Van Assche had to put their friendship aside as they stepped on court for their last-four clash.
A lengthy backhand-to-backhand exchange ended with a miss from Fils, which gifted Van Assche the first break point opportunities of the contest in game five. Van Assche only needed one, with his defensive game drawing the error from an aggressive Fils, who soon conceded the opening set.
Filss' response was quick as he levelled the contest at one-set-all just 38 minutes into play.
The wind was in Fils's sails, and he saved his best for the end of the third set, winning nine of the last 10 points to take a commanding lead.
Despite squandering a match point in game five of the fourth set, Fils sealed the deal in the tiebreak on the one-hour 37-minute mark and celebrated the same way he had been celebrating all week, with Cristiano Ronaldo's signature 'Siu' – a nod to his favourite football player and a way to tease his Spanish coach Sergi Bruguera, who is an avid Barcelona and Lionel Messi fan.
"In the first set for sure I was going too fast, too full. He was running perfectly and with his backhand he was killing me," said Fils, reflecting on his duel with Van Assche.
"So I had to calm down a little bit and wait for the good opportunity and to take my forehand."