American Alex Michelsen’s breakthrough week hit a new high Friday at the Infosys Hall of Fame Open.
The 18-year-old downed fourth seed Mackenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-3 to reach his first tour-level semi-final at the ATP 250 event. World No. 190 Michelsen came out of the blocks strong, dropping just one point behind his first serve in the opening set. The teenager then relied on his backhand in key moments to close the match after one hour, 11 minutes.
"I served really well, first-serve percentage was probably pretty high," Michelsen said in his on-court interview. "The serve was key today and I didn't miss too many groundstrokes either, so that was nice."
Michelsen arrived in Newport without a tour-level match win (0-1), but has enjoyed a career-best performance, downing defending champion Maxime Cressy, James Duckworth, and McDonald to set a meeting against John Isner in the last four. Michelsen made his ATP Tour main-draw debut last month in Mallorca, where he lost to Christopher Eubanks in the opening round.
Currently ninth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Next Gen Race, Michelsen is aiming to make his debut at the Next Gen ATP Finals, which showcases the season's top eight 21-and-under players.
The California native arrived at the grass-court tournament following his triumph at last week’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Chicago. Michelsen is up to No. 152 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
Also in Newport action Friday, four-time champion Isner rallied past World No. 14 Paul 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) in the quarter-finals. After winning just 48 per cent of points behind his serve in the opening set, Isner was broken one time the remainder of the match to extend his Lexus ATP Head2Head record against Paul to 3-0. Isner overcame his slow start and several momentum shifts to prevail after two hours, 41 minutes.
"He was way better than I was in the first set and the first two holds in the second set were actually very critical, so I was at least ahead in the set and that gave me free rein to go after my returns," Isner said. "I told some fans back there, 'I hit the best return I've ever hit in my life!' to go up 3-1 in the second set.
"From there, I had a little bit of momentum. I played a really good third set, I think it was pretty high quality, but it was no secret that I did not want to rally with that guy towards the end of the match. So I was going to serve-and-volley and roll the dice that way."
The 38-year-old Isner, who ended his seven-match losing skid in the first round against Alex Bolt, will compete in his second semi-final of the season on Saturday. Isner has fond memories in Newport, where he lifted the trophy in 2011, 2012, 2017 and 2019.
His next opponent, Michelsen, is 20 years his junior and is committed to the University of Georgia, from which Isner graduated in 2007.