Top seed Fils holds off Van Assche to reach final at ATP Next Gen Finals

The 19-year-old came from a set down to set up a clash with Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia in the final

Arthur Fils Zuma / Panoramic
Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM 2023 Men's Singles •Semi-final • completed
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Top seed Arthur Fils showed his class in the biggest moments as he beat fellow-Frenchman Luca van Assche 2-4, 4-1, 4-3 (1), 4-3 (6) to reach the final of the ATP Next Gen Finals in Jeddah on Friday.

The 19-year-old dropped the first set and then saved two set points in the third, hitting 24 winners as he came through to set up a final against either Hamad Medjedovic of Serbia or Switzerland’s Dominic Stricker in the final on Saturday.

“Today was a tough match against a great, great friend,” Fils said. “We know each other since we were something like nine, but I’m very happy with the win. The first set he was very good, he was defending very well but I kept my focus, I’m really happy and now I’m waiting for the (other) finalist.”

Unbeaten in the Green Group, Fils had lost to second seed Van Assche in the final of the juniors at Roland-Garros in 2021 and it was the Belgian-born Van Assche who began best before Fils, coached by Sergi Bruguera and Sebastien Grosjean, really got into his stride.

His serve, in particular, was in the groove – at one stage he had won 22 straight points when landing the first serve – and his forehand, greater power and poise in the biggest moments proved to the difference between the two on the day.

Van Assche starts fastest

Van Assche, born in Belgium but who moved to France when he was three, was under pressure early on against the power of Fils, whose rise to inside the top 40 of the ATP rankings has been one of the stories of 2023.

Bit Van Assche, ranked 70, stayed solid and remained patient and when he got his chance, he took it, breaking for 3-2 and then serving out the set to 15, winning 12 of the last 14 points to move ahead.

Fils ups the power to level

Fils had impressed throughout the group stages and he didn’t let his head drop. After a couple of good holds to start the second set, he began to turn up the heat on the Van Assche serve, hitting a couple of big forehands to get to 2-1, 15-40 with three chances to break.

Van Assche saved one break point with an athletic reach on the volley that had Fils smiling in disbelief but he took the second one as Van Assche netted a backhand to go up 3-1.

Fils then made no mistake when serving it out, quickly holding to level the match at one set apiece.

Fils finds top form at crucial moment

Van Assche continued to chip away at Fils, hoping for a let-up. The first five games went with serve, with little opportunity for the other, but Van Assche had a big chance when he led 30-40 on the Fils serve at 2-3, two set points.

That was when Fils turned on the class. First he saved one with an ace; then he saved the second with forcing play and then, in the ensuing tiebreak, he moved up a few gears as he raced to a 5-0 lead.

Van Assche got himself on the board with a fine forehand but Fils banged down another big serve – he won 11 out of 11 on first serves in the set – to earn five set points and the closed it out when Van Assche netted an awkward backhand.

Fils maintains momentum, wins another tiebreak to finish it off

Fils was almost untouchable on serve – to 2-1 in the fourth he had won 22 straight points when landing his first serve – and Van Assche was having to come up with some bold play to stay in the match.

The 19-year-old did well to stay on level terms, but at 2-3 he faced a match point as Fils turned up the power once more. To his immense credit, Van Assche held his nerve and forced another tiebreak.

As in the previous tiebreak, Fils raised his game again, just when he needed to, forging a 4-1 lead. Van Assche continued to fight, though, getting back to 4-4 and then saving two more match points at 4-6 and 5-6. But Fils held firm himself, crunching a forehand to set up a fourth match point and finally, clinching victory on his fourth match point when Van Assche sent a backhand just over the baseline.

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