At just his second attempt, Alex Michelsen is an ATP Tour finalist.
The 18-year-old delivered a confident and commanding display Saturday to see off John Isner 7-6(6), 6-4 at the Infosys Hall of Fame Open in Newport, where he will take on Adrian Mannarino in the championship match.
Michelsen was No. 1,081 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings this week last year, but the #NextGenATP American is now up to No. 139 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings as a result of his run in Rhode Island, where he downed defending champion Maxime Cressy, James Duckworth and Mackenzie McDonald prior to defeating record four-time Newport titlist Isner.
“I think I’m going to need a month [to process this],” said Michelsen, who did not have an ATP Tour main-draw win before this week. “It’s going to need a little bit for sure. It doesn’t feel like I’m in the final, but that’s probably a good thing. That’s why I’m playing so loose.”
Having also qualified in Mallorca for his ATP Tour debut in June (when he fell 5-7 in the third set to eventual champion Christopher Eubanks), Michelsen on Saturday proved once again that he is ready to compete against more experienced opponents. He held his nerve like a seasoned pro in a first-set tie-break shootout with the big-serving Isner, before riding that momentum to an early — and ultimately decisive — break in the opening game of the second set.
The way Michelsen raised his game at key moments was crucial to his semi-final victory at the grass-court ATP 250. He saved all three break points he faced in his one-hour, 42-minute triumph, and fired back-to-back aces to seal his win before dropping his racquet and raising his arms in the air to salute a delighted home crowd.
“I knew he was going to serve two or three aces a game consistently, so I just focused on my serve to get to a breaker," said Michelsen after Isner sent down 20 aces in defeat. "I got a little fortunate to win that first-set breaker and then I think I caught him sleeping a little bit [early in the second set], and then just held my serve.”
Mannarino earlier booked his spot in his first Newport final with a 6-4, 6-3 triumph against his fellow Frenchman Ugo Humbert. The second seed was rock-solid from the baseline and aggressive on return throughout, converting four of 14 break points to secure a one-hour, 46-minute win.
“I was feeling really good on the court today,” said Mannarino after the match. “Especially the [past] couple of matches gave me a lot of confidence, so when the big moments arrived during the match I was just pretty confident in my game. It worked pretty well. My serve was really efficient today, and my return as well.
“There are some days like that, where everything is rolling your way, and that was one of those days.”
Sunday’s final will be Mannarino’s second on grass of the 2023 ATP Tour season. The 35-year-old also reached the championship match in Mallorca in June before falling to Christopher Eubanks. He is 2-10 in tour-level finals across his career, having lifted titles in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2019 and in Winston-Salem in 2022.