Frenchman Luca Van Assche is soaking in a strong start to the season on the ATP Challenger Tour. At just 18 years old, the #NextGenATP player is doing it all while continuing a normal teenage life: studying university homework and enjoying his passions apart from tennis, such as Formula One Racing, which Van Assche began to follow after watching the Netflix series Drive To Survive.
Should Van Assche someday rise to stardom on the ATP Tour, perhaps he will find himself in the Netflix series Break Point, which premiered in January and features players such as Nick Kyrgios, Matteo Berrettini, and Taylor Fritz. If fans were given a behind-the-scenes look of Van Assche, they would find the teenager stays busy with his various hobbies.
“I listen to a lot of French rap. There are a lot of good rappers in France, like Ninho,” Van Assche said. “I like Paris Saint-Germain, their stadium is near my house. I also love Formula One, since I started watching the Netflix series [Drive To Survive] a few years ago. I follow a bit of rugby too.”
In December, the Brussels-born player had his breakthrough moment, winning his maiden Challenger title in Maia, Portugal during the final week of the season. This past week, Van Assche collected another Challenger crown in dramatic fashion.
Van Assche escaped countryman Ugo Humbert in the longest Challenger final in history (three hours, 56 minutes) at the Terega Open Pau Pyrenees. After fending off two championship points, the #NextGenATP star lifted his hands in the air to celebrate a thrilling 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-6(6) victory.
“It was a crazy match, an amazing fight against Ugo,” Van Assche said. “I’m very happy. A lot of emotions during this match. I was leading, then losing. I was match point up, then match point down. It was a fantastic match with great support from the crowd.
Luca Van Assche triumphs at the Challenger 125 in Pau. Credit: Alexis Atteret
“At 4/6 in the [deciding-set] tie-break, I was hoping he wouldn’t hit an ace! I was playing point by point, just focussing on every point. I was a little bit exhausted so I was not thinking too much, just playing my game.”
If it were not for his professional tennis career, Van Assche may have pursued a career in mathematics, which he is studying online at Paris Dauphine University. Even at last week’s Pau Challenger, the World No. 110 was working on homework on his days off.
“I passed my exams in December,” Van Assche said. “I’m doing two or three subjects in a semester. When I had days off in Pau, I was doing a little bit of homework on Tuesday and Thursday. It’s a little complicated because when you’re in the tournament, you’re focussed and sometimes tired.”
Van Assche has enjoyed success on the Challenger Tour following his standout junior career. In 2021, Van Assche captured the Roland Garros boys’ singles title. In the championship match, he defeated countryman and close friend Arthur Fils, who is currently No. 111 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, just one spot behind Van Assche. The French teenagers are holding a friendly competition to see who cracks the Top 100 first.
“I hope to be in the Top 100 sooner than him!” Van Assche joked. “I know Arthur very well and I’m very happy for him and his results. I’m practising with him almost every day, so we’re talking about it. I’m pretty close to the Top 100 and I hope to be there soon.”
Van Assche is the fourth Frenchman to win multiple Challenger titles before turning 19, joining Richard Gasquet, Gael Monfils, and Fabrice Santoro, who all surpassed the Top 20. Monfils and Gasquet, who are still active on Tour, have been as high as No. 6 and 7, respectively.
Can Van Assche follow in his countrymen steps and rise to the top levels of the sport? “I hope so,” Van Assche said. “It’s the goal of my career to be in the Top 10 and fight for the big titles. It’s an honour to be compared to those guys, they are legends in France. I want to continue like them.
“Gasquet is practising in Paris and I’m in Paris so I practise a lot with him. We’ve talked a little bit about his life on Tour. When a player like him tells you that you play very well and that you have a big future, it gives you a lot of confidence because they are very famous players.”
Van Assche now shifts his attention to the clay-court swing as he attempts to make his maiden Roland Garros main-draw appearance. The teen will next be in action on the red dirt at the Sanremo Challenger, which begins 27 March.