Can French teenagers Arthur Fils and Luca Van Assche set a date in Hamburg?

On their ATP 500 debuts in Hamburg, teenagers Arthur Fils and Luca Van Assche have impressed this week, with both making the quarter-finals

Arthur Fils Luca Van Assche Hamburg (JB Autissier / Panoramic)

French teenagers Arthur Fils and Luca Van Assche are just one match away from what would be a mouth-watering NextGen clash in Hamburg this week.

The two 19-year-olds have been on a remarkably parallel rise over the past 18 months, with both rocketing up the ATP rankings to No 71 and No 77 off the back of some exceptional Challenger level results and ATP debuts.

Now, with the two Frenchmen into the quarter-finals of the Hamburg European Open, only Casper Ruud and Alexander Zverev stand between them and a semi-final meeting in the top half of the draw.

The parallel rise of Arthur Fils and Luca Van Assche

Wind back the clock two years, and you’d be hard-pressed to find even the most dedicated of tennis fan who had heard of either Arthur Fils or Luca Van Assche. Admittedly, neither had played in the main draw of a Challenger event by then, having only just turned professional in 2021 and still competing at the Futures level.

Fast forward to today, they’re the best two tennis-playing teenagers in the world right now.

Both have gained some accolades along the way as well. Arthur Fils has an ATP title and a top 10 win to his name, winning the ATP 250 in Lyon this May and beating the likes of Felix Auger-Aliassime, Brandon Nakashima and Francisco Cerundolo en route to the title. In 2023 alone, Fils has made two other ATP Tour-level semi-finals, debuted at two Grand Slams, and holds a 10-7 record for the year with a ranking of No 71.

While Luca Van Assche is yet to win an ATP title, he has won back-to-back Challenger events and made the second round of Roland-Garros. Again, all of this has occurred in 2023 alone, a year which has seen Van Assche take a set off 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, as well as claiming back-to-back top 100 victories and his first top 50 win. The 19-year-old currently sits at No 77 in the ATP rankings, but has been as high as No 69 last month.

It’s been a wild ride the past 18 months for these two teenagers, and the question is: will Hamburg be the next ground-breaking chapter in one of their impressive professional careers so far?

ATP 500 debut brings the best out of French teenagers

Both Arthur Fils and Luca Van Assche are competing in the main draw of an ATP 500 for the first time this week.

Coming into the Hamburg European Open 2023, the pair were searching for some form, if that’s even possible for two 19-year-olds ranked inside the world’s top 100. Fils had suffered four consecutive main draw defeats since lifting the trophy in Lyon, while Van Assche had just one win in his past four matches.

The German clay has resonated with the French teenagers, however, with Fils grinding out twin 7-5, 7-5 wins over No 67 Daniel Elahi Galan and No 60 Dusan Lajovic, and Van Assche beating compatriot Alexandre Muller 7-6 (3), 6-4, before gaining revenge over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina for his Roland-Garros defeat, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4.

Both are now through to the quarter-finals on their ATP 500-level debut, with a shot at making their first semi-final at this level, should they win on Friday.

Arthur Fils with the Lyon Open trophy
Arthur Fils with the Lyon Open trophy Image Credit: Sandrine Thesillat / Panoramic

Could upset-prone Ruud and Zverev present an opportunity in Hamburg?

Up next for the two 19-year-olds are a pair of Grand Slam finalists, with Fils facing top seed and world No 4 Casper Ruud, while Van Assche comes up against fourth seed Alexander Zverev.

Despite the daunting task of knocking out some of the world’s best players, there is hope to be had that the Frenchmen can prevail.

Casper Ruud has looked shaky this week, dropping 6-1 sets in both of his opening matches and being forced to go the distance to win in three sets. Ruud is also playing in Hamburg after having made the final in Bastad on Sunday, where he lost to Andrey Rublev. Rublev has already crashed out of Hamburg, showing just how tough it is to back up a deep run the next week.

Alexander Zverev has not been troubled in Hamburg so far, with the German has beating Alex Molcan and Maximilian Marterer in straight sets. However, it’s been a wobbly year to date for the 26-year-old. Returning from injury, the former world No 2 has lost 18 times in 2023, going down to the likes of Christopher O’Connell (No 82), Taro Daniel (No 97) and Michael Mmoh (No 107).

None of this is to say that Fils and Van Assche winning their quarter-finals is a certainty. Far from it—both Ruud and Zverev will fancy themselves as the heavy favourites. In saying that, there is a path to victory for both, and a world where the weekend will see the two best teenagers in the world go toe-to-toe in the Hamburg semi-finals.

Whether or not that happens, the future of French tennis feels safe in the hands of Fils and Van Assche.

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