Luca Van Assche kept his hopes of reaching the semi-finals at the Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM alive with a marathon five-set victory over Alex Michelsen on Thursday night. The Frenchman, second seed, won 4-3(0), 3-4(4), 4-3(4), 4-1, 4-3(6) and placed first in the Red Group after two hours and 36 minutes, the second longest match in the history of the tournament.

“It was a very tough game,” said the 19-year-old. “It was very difficult. There were four tie-breaks in the match, so it was very close. I am very happy to have won today… I hope the next result in the next match will qualify me.”

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

Van Assche and Michelsen dominated serve in the first three sets, in which they both saved all five break points they faced. The first breaks of the match came in the fourth set, with three in a row. Van Assche got two of them by dragging Michelsen into long rallies on the return, with the American unable to break the Frenchman’s agile defences.

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Van Assche had the opportunity to serve for the match before Michelsen responded to force the tie-break. The Frenchman built a 3-0 lead with consistent play and never gave up in the decisive tiebreak, although he had to keep his cool after Michelsen saved two match points.

The opponents combined for 61 winners in the match (31 by Michelsen), with the American’s 38 net approaches often forcing the action. Michelsen won 24 of those points at the net (68%), repeatedly stretching every inch of his six-foot-four frame to fend off Van Assche’s passing shots, although the Frenchman sneaked his fair share of winners past his opponent. In the net.

Van Assche saved seven of nine and Michelsen eight of 11. In his three group stage matches, Van Assche saved 31 of 40 break points (78%).


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