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SF Preview: Top-Seeded Frenchmen Fils, Van Assche Meet In Jeddah

  • Posted: Dec 01, 2023

SF Preview: Top-Seeded Frenchmen Fils, Van Assche Meet In Jeddah

Medjedovic meets Stricker in second SF

Friday evening’s semi-finals at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM will see a pair of first-time Lexus ATP Head2Head meetings. First is an all-French battle between Arthur Fils and Luca Van Assche, followed Hamad Medjedovic vs. Dominic Stricker.

[1] Arthur Fils (FRA) vs. [2] Luca Van Assche (FRA)

Top seed Fils and second seed Van Assche played once before at the junior level, in 2021. In the final of Roland Garros, their home Grand Slam, Van Assche earned a straight-sets victory. By becoming the first Frenchmen to reach the semi-finals in the six-year history of the Next Gen ATP Finals, they have set up another high-stakes encounter in Jeddah.

Fils enters as winner of the Green Group with a perfect 3-0 record. This year’s Lyon champion leads the field in both second-serve points won (60%) and return games won (9 of 35, 26%). Van Assche, who finished second in the Red Group at 2-1, is second in return games won (9 of 37, 24%) but has faced a tournament-high 37 break points, saving 31 of them.

With three matches under their belts, both players are now accustomed to the innovations and new rules on trial at the event — including no on-court warm-up and a reduced shot clock.

“It is exciting to have new rules and I am adapting after three matches,” Van Assche said. “I think most of the rules are pretty cool. The no warm-up is a bit difficult.”

[3] Dominic Stricker (SUI) vs. [6] Hamad Medjedovic (SER)

While Stricker and Medjedovic are not countrymen, their relationship goes back many years to their early junior days.

“I’ve known Dominic for a long time,” Medjedovic said after beating Arab hope Abdullah Shelbayh to secure his semi-final place. “He’s a great player and a great guy obviously. I think it’s going to be a great match and I’m happy to be in the semis.”

The Serbian leads the Jeddah field in a number of key metrics on both serve and return, including aces (45), service games won (37 of 39, 95%) and points won against first serve (32%). Those numbers added up to a perfect 3-0 record and a first-place finish in the Red Group.

Stricker posted a 1-2 record in the Green Group and advanced with a better percentage of sets won (45%) than Italians Flavio Cobolli and Luca Nardi, who were also 1-2. While he has not sustained top form so far in Jeddah, he has the advantage of experience: The lone returning competitor at this year’s Next Gen ATP Finals, Stricker also reached the semis last season in Milan. He has picked up considerable big-match experience since then, with a run to the US Open fourth round that helped him achieve a career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking of No. 88 in October.

For all the top-level matches the four Jeddah semi-finalists have played this season, none have had the opportunity to compete under the bright lights of the Next Gen ATP Finals title match. That reward — a chance to put the perfect cap on a breakout season — is on the line Friday night.

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Medjedovic Books Jeddah SF Place, Qualifies Van Assche

  • Posted: Nov 30, 2023

Medjedovic Books Jeddah SF Place, Qualifies Van Assche

Serbian is bidding to complete a 3-0 group campaign

Hamad Medjedovic put himself in a commanding position in the Red Group by winning his first two matches at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. He has now taken full advantage of his strong start by securing his semi-final place in Jeddah.

By winning a 4-2 second set against Abdullah Shelbayh on Thursday night, Medjedovic confirmed his place in the knockout rounds. The Serbian then claimed a 4-3(5) third set to eliminate Arab hope Shelbayh from semi-final contention and qualify Luca Van Assche.

With that, the semi-final stage is set in Jeddah. As winner of the Red Group, Medjedovic will face Dominic Stricker on Friday. Van Assche, the second-place finisher in the Red Group, will meet Green Group winner Arthur Fils.

More to follow…

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The Real Reason Why Fils Is Doing Ronaldo’s ‘Siu’ Celebration In Jeddah

  • Posted: Nov 30, 2023

The Real Reason Why Fils Is Doing Ronaldo’s ‘Siu’ Celebration In Jeddah

Frenchman reveals an inside joke with his coach, Sergi Bruguera

Arthur Fils has been in scintillating form this week at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. Yet the top seed’s post-victory celebrations have been almost as eye-catching as his on-court prowess in Jeddah.

The 19-year-old has celebrated each of his three wins in Green Group at the 21-and-under season finale by performing Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘Siu’ celebration inside King Abdullah’s Sports City. Fils is a long-time admirer of the Portuguese football star, who has played for Saudi Pro League team Al Nassr since January.

“I was a huge fan when I was young of Ronaldo,” Fils told on Thursday after maintaining his perfect record at the 21-and-under event by beating Dominic Stricker. “Now it’s a little bit tough to follow the football [and Ronaldo], especially when he’s here. I’m really a fan of him and I know he is playing here in this country, so I’m really happy [to do it] when I win.”

The reference to Ronaldo’s connection with Saudi Arabia may have been obvious to many in the crowd when Fils celebrated. Yet the Frenchman later revealed an ulterior motive for emulating the Portuguese football legend, who formerly played for Spanish giants Real Madrid.

“My coach Sergi [Bruguera] is a huge fan of Barcelona and Lionel Messi, so I just wanted to make him crazy,” joked Fils. “That’s why I’m doing it, and I think I’m doing it well.”

So will Fils continue to bring out his version of the ‘Siu’ for the 2024 season, even when he is playing outside of Saudi Arabia?

“Probably not, but [maybe] sometimes,” he said. “Why not? I don’t know when [exactly] Sergi will be with me, but if I want to make him crazy, I will do it for sure.”

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Van Assche Keeps SF Hopes Alive With Marathon Michelsen Win

  • Posted: Nov 30, 2023

Van Assche Keeps SF Hopes Alive With Marathon Michelsen Win

Van Assche moves top of Red Group but remains under threat

Luca Van Assche kept alive his semi-final hopes at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM with a marathon five-set win against Alex Michelsen on Thursday night. The second-seeded Frenchman earned a 4-3(0), 3-4(4), 4-3(4), 4-1, 4-3(6) victory to move into first place in the Red Group after two hours, 36 minutes — the second-longest match in the event’s history.

“It was a very tough match,” said the 19-year-old. “It was very difficult. There was four tie-breaks in the match, so it was really close. I’m very happy to win today… I hope that the next result in the next match will qualify me.”

Following the win, there is only one scenario in which Van Assche will not advance to the Jeddah semi-finals: if Abdullah Shelbayh beats Hamad Medjedovic in exactly four sets in the evening’s final match. In that case, Shelbayh would win the group and Medjedovic would finish second.

Van Assche and Michelsen dominated on serve in the first three sets, with both saving all five break points they faced across that period. The first breaks of the match came in the fourth set, when there were three in a row. Van Assche earned two of them by dragging Michelsen into longer rallies on return, with the American unable to break down the agile Frenchman’s defenses.

The opponents would again trade breaks in consecutive games in the final set, with Van Assche fashioning an opportunity to serve for the match before Michelsen answered to force a tie-break. The Frenchman built a 3/0 lead with steady play and never trailed in the decisive tiebreak, though he had to hold his nerve late after Michelsen saved two match points to level at 6/6.

“He was playing very well the whole match,” Van Assche said of his opponent. “It was really, really close. Not a lot of breaks and it was difficult for me today but I am happy.”

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The opponents combined for 61 winners in the match (31 for Michelsen), with the American’s 38 net approaches often forcing the action. He won 24 of those net points (68%), repeatedly stretching every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame to deny would-be passing shots form Van Assche — though the Frenchman snuck his fair share of winners beyond his opponent at net.

There were also a combined 20 break points in the match, with Van Assche saving seven of nine and Michelsen erasing eight of 11. In his three group-stage matches, Van Assche saved a combined 31 of 40 break points (78%).

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Young Fans Key To Tennis' Rise In Saudi Arabia

  • Posted: Nov 30, 2023

Young Fans Key To Tennis’ Rise In Saudi Arabia

Sport’s popularity riding wave among the Kingdom’s large under-30 population.

Anyone for tennis? In Saudi Arabia, the answer is increasingly ‘Yes’.

With a growing fan and player base, tennis is fast capturing the hearts and minds in the Kingdom, which boasts a 50 per cent sports participation rate. The Saudi Tennis Federation has a clear target demographic: the country’s 20m citizens under the age of 30.

A look at the faces this week in the Fan Zone at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM in Jeddah and in the stands at the King Abdullah Sports City confirms that young Saudis are quickly warming to the sport.

“Our strategy is to nurture young players, develop infrastructure, and invest in grassroots initiatives because youth is the key to any sport’s long-term success,” said President of the Saudi Tennis Federation (STF), Arij Almutabagani . “We’re certainly on the right path. Our strategy is working and we’re seeing interest and participation increase.”

<a href=Arthur Fils with a young Saudi tennis fan at the Fan Zone at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM in Jeddah.” />

Arthur Fils with a young Saudi tennis fan at the Fan Zone at the Next Gen ATP Finals.

Saudi today is home to 177 tennis clubs, up 146 per cent since 2019. In the past four years, the number of registered players has increased 46% to 2,300, with a 100 per cent increase in under-14 players, from 500 to more than 1,000.

The Saudi Tennis Federation (STF) also holds 40 national tournaments annually, including three ITF junior tournaments in the past year.

“Major strides have been taken and one of these was tennis being added to the school physical education curriculum earlier this year,” revealed Almutabagani.

Citing youth as the future, Almutabagani’s primary aspiration is building a vibrant junior tennis scene and she is adamant that tennis can embrace the Kingdom’s youth opportunity.

STF’s partnership with the Saudi Sports For All Federation (SFA) presented the ‘Tennis For All’ in 2022, a 16-week mass participation program to introduce tennis to a new generation of sports enthusiasts. 13,000 were introduced to tennis in the program’s first edition, with a much higher figure in 2023.

Young fans enjoying the Next Gen ATP Finals.

Young fans enjoying the Next Gen ATP Finals in Jeddah.

This past April, Tennis For All was introduced in the Ministry of Education’s curriculum at 90 public schools, with STF training 170 physical education teachers to provide efficient and effective lessons. Participation more than doubled this time around with an estimated 30,000.

“We’re targeting 200 schools in 2024 and 400 by 2025,” Almutabagani said. “Achieving this will support sustained growth as more tennis academies are launched and more national tennis centers are built. We already have 505 coaches and 182 officials in the Kingdom and we’ll be rolling out more opportunities for people to get involved. Roles like these are equally as important for the sport’s development, as are professional events.”

Young girls are coming to tennis through the Tennis For All programme.
Young Saudis are coming to tennis through the Tennis For All programme. Photo courtesy Tennis For All.

This week, STF is hosting the first ATP-sanctioned event in the Kingdom, the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM in Jeddah. A global, modern, and innovative competition featuring the world’s best 21-and-under players, the event is underway at King Abdullah Sports City from 28 November to 2 December. Sanctioned by the ATP Tour and hosted by STF, this historic event marks the beginning of a five-year contract to bring the pinnacle of young global tennis talent to the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia’s No. 1 male tennis player, Ammar Alhogbani, has been a hitting partner this week for the eight players competing in the Next Gen ATP Finals. He said of his excitement, “The growth of tennis in Saudi Arabia and for Saudi Arabian’s has been exceptional in recent years. I’m blessed to be even a small a part of it. To now also have the first sanctioned ATP event in our backyard is an immensely exciting part of our next chapter. I’m sure having the best young players from around the world here in Jeddah will inspire future generations of Saudi to follow in their footsteps and encourage all Saudi’s players to come out and experience the event for themselves.”

The value of Saudi Arabia’s sports event industry is growing by 8 per cent a year and will reach $3.3 billion by 2024 – a $1.2 billion increase from $2.1 billion in 2018. Additionally, significant events investments are being made with $2 billion committed to help sports grow by 2024.

The Next Gen ATP Finals are a direct result of this opportunity. With the event sure to inspire new fans, entice a young population, and unite audiences, many more will follow in the future.

“Tennis will become a big part of Saudi’s future sports event industry and this will be the first of many professional tennis tournaments that we stage,” added Almutabagani. “We eagerly anticipate welcoming tennis enthusiasts from across Saudi Arabia and beyond to witness the exhilarating matches and experience the innovation and excitement that the Next Gen ATP Finals will bring to Jeddah.”

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