Fils, 18, finds inspiration in compatriots to win Challenger title | TBEN | Tennis


It was a French affair this week on the TBEN and Challenger Tour. And Arthur Fils followed the results of his compatriots Arthur Cazaux and Richard Gasquet, who competed for titles on the other side of the world.

The 18-year-old Fils, who was due to play his first Challenger final in Oeiras, had seen the results of Cazaux, who won Saturday’s Nonthaburi Challenger, and Tour veteran Gasquet, who took the title at the ATP 250 in Auckland. He used that as inspiration to claim a title of his own in Portugal.

‘I’ve seen Luca [Van Assche] not too long ago winning the Maia Challenger, I saw Arthur Cazaux do it overnight, I saw Richard Gasquet do it today. I said, ‘Okay, you have to win this one!’” Fils said with a laugh during his post-game press conference.

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Fils, who had an excellent youth career, hopes to be part of France’s next crop of great players. In 2021, he was a finalist in the boys’ singles event at Roland Garros, losing only to compatriot Luca Van Assche, who took his first Challenger title in December. That same year, Fils teamed up with close friend Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard to capture the Roland Garros boys’ double crown.

Following his victory in Portugal, Fils joined an exclusive roster of French Challenger champions aged 18 and under: Gasquet, Sebastien Grosjean, Gael Monfils, Fabrice Santoro, Corentin Moutet and Van Assche. Now at a career-high 195 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, Fils is the first teen Challenger champion of 2023 and the youngest French player in the Top 200.

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After dropping just one set all week on the indoor hard court event, including ousting top seed Ricardas Berankis, the French teen was asked what he will remember most about this week in Oeiras. Fils joked: “I will remember losing one set and it was 0-6! But no, I will remember the final and the great atmosphere.”

It has been almost 40 years since a Frenchman won a Grand Slam (Yannick Noah, 1983 Roland Garros). While the European country has had many consistent professionals since then, Fils hopes the four-decade drought won’t last much longer.

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“It was tough for Tsonga, Monfils and Gasquet because they came in the same generation as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, they won everything,” said Fils. “Maybe when Nadal and Djokovic retire, we’ll have more chances to win a Grand Slam.”

Perhaps the next great French tennis champion is currently advancing on the Challenger Tour.

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