It was a French affair on the ATP Tour and Challenger Tour this week. And Arthur Fils was following the results of his countrymen Arthur Cazaux and Richard Gasquet, who were competing for titles on the other side of the world.
Set to play in his first Challenger final in Oeiras, the 18-year-old Fils had seen the results from Cazaux, who won the Nonthaburi Challenger on Saturday and Tour-veteran Gasquet, who collected the title at the ATP 250 in Auckland. He used that as inspiration to claim a title of his own in Portugal.
“I saw Luca [Van Assche] win the Maia Challenger not that long ago, I saw that overnight Arthur Cazaux did it, I saw that Richard Gasquet did it today. I said, ‘Okay you have to win this one!’” Fils said, while cracking a laugh during his post-match press conference.
Fils, who enjoyed a standout junior career, hopes to be part of France’s next crop of great players. In 2021, he was a finalist at the Roland Garros boys’ singles event, only losing to countryman Luca Van Assche, who earned his maiden Challenger title in December. That same year, Fils teamed with close friend Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard to capture the Roland Garros boys’ doubles crown.
Following his triumph in Portugal, Fils joined an exclusive list 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 teenage Challenger champion of 2023 and the youngest French player in the Top 200.
After dropping just one set all week at 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 that I lost one set and it was 0-6! But no, I will remember the final and the great atmosphere.”
It’s been nearly 40 years since a Frenchman won a Grand Slam (Yannick Noah, 1983 Roland Garros). While the European country has had many consistent professionals since, Fils is hoping the four-decade drought doesn’t last much longer.
“It was tough for Tsonga, Monfils, and Gasquet because they came in the same generation as Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, they won everything,” Fils said. “Maybe when Nadal and Djokovic retire, we will have more opportunities to win a Grand Slam.”
Perhaps the next great French tennis champion is currently making progress on the Challenger Tour.