Down match point in the opening round of this week’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Cary, North Carolina, 19-year-old Alex Michelsen survived a lung-busting rally at 6/7 in the second-set tie-break before letting out a loud roar.
Michelsen was on the ropes of defeat to Frenchman Maxime Janvier, but the American held his nerve to survive 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-3 after two hours, 18 minutes. Though it was a tight, heavy-hitting battle, the teenager appeared calm, cool and collected. On the inside, Michelsen’s fiery competitive spirit came alive alongside a methodical approach to turn the match around.
“I just told myself, ‘Keep calm and try to make as many balls as you can and hopefully he’ll give you some mistakes,’” Michelsen told ATPTour.com. “And then he gave me a couple and that was all I needed to get back in the match. I played a very good point to save match point and then I just found a way, so it was good.”
The California native raced through the third set and post match went to cool down in the gym, where he was riding a stationary bike while playing Clash Royale on his phone. Currently eighth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah, Michelsen’s determination to be the best goes beyond tennis.
“I’m competitive in everything, like when I play video games. I was just born that way. Sometimes it can probably be annoying for some of us,” Michelsen said.
“I’m so competitive in ping pong. When I was at the US Open, I played probably 45 games of ping pong with Learner Tien. He got me, he beat me by like two or three games in the series. We played so much ping pong.”
A native of Laguna Hills, California, Michelsen is one of the fastest rising stars in the sport. This time last year, he was No. 1,015 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Michelsen has risen to a career-high World No. 117 on the back of a breakout season in which he made the final at the ATP 250 event in Newport.
In August, the #NextGenATP star announced he would forgo his college eligibility at the University of Georgia and instead turn pro. A memorable moment soon followed when he earned his maiden major main-draw victory at the US Open.
Despite the quick success at a young age, Michelsen is not getting caught up in his potential.
“It is pretty easy for me to focus on the day-to-day. My coaches always tell me, ‘If you put in the work, then you’ll end up higher than others,’” Michelsen said. “Yes there is potential, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t put in the work every day. I just try to keep my head down and keep that up for as many years as I can.”
Perhaps even a better sign for Michelsen’s coaches, Eric Diaz and Jay Leavitt, at the Tier 1 Performance Academy in Laguna Niguel, California, is the fact that the American works hard and enjoys doing so.
“Nothing’s better than the grind. ‘You gotta love the grind’, I tell myself all the time,” Michelsen said. “Because if you don’t love it, then being on the tennis tour really sucks if you don’t love the grind, but thankfully I do.”
Alex Michelsen in action Tuesday at the Atlantic Tire Championships. Credit: Alexis Galloway
Michelsen’s strong work ethic comes especially in handy when he is deep into a five-hour training session.
“When you’re on hour four, four-and-a-half hours on court, it’s like you have to push the extra 30 minutes, you have to push it,” Michelsen said. “Sometimes you have motivation, sometimes you don’t. But it’s not about motivation, it’s about discipline. And you have to have that every day.”
The second seed, who in July won his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Chicago, will next meet American qualifier Strong Kirchheimer in the second round of the Atlantic Tire Championships on Wednesday.