5 min read
When the Australian Open gets underway next week, one American teenager will be soaking it all in for the first time. Alex Michelsen (UTR Rating 13.32), a 17-year-old from Laguna Beach, is making his Junior Grand Slam debut.
"I never thought I'd be playing Slams, I never thought it'd be good enough," Michelsen said. "It's crazy. A year and a half ago, if you told me I was going to play in Australia, I’d be like, 'No way.'"
Developing in 2021
The past 12 months have been pivotal for the teenager’s development and career. He showed steady improvement throughout the season, as evidenced by his progression on the UTR Pro Tennis Tour. He made his debut at the PTT Newport Beach Men’s $25K Hard 3 by going 0-5. He fared better at his next PTT event by winning two rounds.
“The way it's structured is great because it’s a minimum of three or four matches, and high-level players come in,” Michelsen said. “When I first played PTT, I got absolutely stumped. The guys were so good. I still got some money, which was cool.”
Michelsen picked up a lot of wins on the junior circuit, reaching the final of the USTA National L2 Boys’ 18s in San Diego, and the final of the Orange County USTA SoCal Junior Sectional.
Seeing the Results
His results began shifting on the PTT and he put together his first winning week in Newport Beach in July by going 4-2. Yet another junior finalist finish followed at an ITF in Canada (where he also won the doubles title) and he made did his first PTT final appearance in November at the Newport Beach Men’s $25K Hard 13. Michelsen calls his win over Poland’s Maciej Rajski (13.74) in the semifinals one of his best of the year.
"I’ve just has been getting steadily better and the matches have helped me through that," Michelsen said. "It's close to home too. I live 20 minutes from Newport Beach, so it's nice."
He rang in the new year with his first PTT title, at the Newport Beach Men's $25K Hard 15 with five straight wins, a complete 360 turnaround from how he began 2021. His biggest upset came in the quarterfinals over top seed Brandon Holt, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3.
"At one point in the match, I was like this guy is unreal, there's no way I win this, and then I just found a way," Michelsen said. "I had two match points in the second and absolutely choked, and then somehow won the third set. I played exceptional. That's probably my best win."
Committing to College
Michelsen’s UTR Rating went from 12.40 at the start of 2021 to a high of 13.23 to start off this season. Amidst all of his improvement and winning, Michelsen committed to the University of Georgia as the No. 2 recruit in the nation for the Class of 2023.
The high school junior is one of five male PTT players in the Class of 2023 along with Nicholas Heng (Auburn), Chase Thompson (Notre Dame), Ethan Schiffman (UC Berkeley), and Emon Von Loben Sels (UCLA). Four Class of 2023 female PTT players have committed to top schools, including 17-year-old Luciana Perry (Ohio State).
"College just gives you a chance to develop physically and mentally because college tennis is just a mental war, especially at away dual matches," Michelsen said. "And the fitness is crazy and you get so strong — that's what I need."
Georgia was a natural choice for Michelsen since he trains at Tier 1 Performance in Irvine with Jay Leavitt, Filipp Pogostkin, and Eric Diaz, the son of Georgia men’s head coach Manny Diaz.
"They helped me develop a lot in the last eight, nine months I've been there," Michelsen said. "When I went there I had no serve or forehand and now I have a serve and forehand so it's nice."
He’s turned into a complete player with the results coming in both doubles and singles. In 2021, he won two ITF doubles titles and reached the final of the USTA Boys’ National Clay Court Championships, all with different partners. He’ll be a dark horse in the Junior Australian Open doubles draw.
"I like doubles, too," Michelsen said. "There’s no reason to go across the world and not play doubles. I enjoy it a little more actually. It's just quicker, more action-packed, and a lot more energy with four people on a court."
Setting His Sights on Melbourne
Michelsen is enduring the longest travel day of his life to make it Down Under for the first time, where exciting new opportunities await. Playing a Grand Slam for the first time and playing alongside the pros he's watched his entire life will be unforgettable.
He’ll be keeping his eyes peeled for one particular player, Gael Monfils, who started his 18th ATP season with a title in Adelaide.
"I've always liked Monfils because he's just like the most athletic human ever," Michelsen said. "He's really, really fun to watch. So if I get to see him there, that'd be a dream come true. That'd be awesome."
Per Universal Tennis rankings, Michelsen is the 11th best junior in the world, while his ITF junior ranking is No. 87. Regardless, he's more focused on the experience than the results.
"Just being in Melbourne and seeing all those guys and being in that realm is a totally different, totally new experience I'm going to have," he said. "It's going to be amazing. I can't wait and maybe I could get to practice with a pro, that'd be awesome."
•UTR Ratings and Rankings as of Jan. 11, 2022.