Felix Auger-Alassime and Denis Shapovalov stole the show on the second day of the 2018 Rogers Cup in Toronto – each scoring straight-sets victories Tuesday. Auger-Alassime defeated No. 18-ranked Lucas Pouille 6-4, 6-3 in the afternoon before Shapovalov flashed his magic in a decisive 6-1, 6-4 win over No. 46 Jeremy Chardy in the evening.
It was Auger-Aliassime’s first match win at the Rogers Cup and with it, and Shapovalov’s three first-round victories, the two good friends are a combined 4-0 in opening-round matches. That dates back to 2016 when Shapovalov upset Nick Kyrgios in his very first Rogers Cup main-draw appearance.
Auger-Aliassime got off to a great start on centre court – breaking Pouille in the second game on a double fault by the Frenchman that was confirmed by Hawk-Eye.
He then doused his first danger in the third game – rallying from love-40, saving three break points to hold serve and take a 3-0 lead.
Pouille, who didn’t have the greatest start, eventually re-grouped and broke Auger-Aliassime to make it 5-4 on serve for the Montrealer. But in the next game, just when it seemed the 24-year-old Frenchman, who has a career-high ranking of No. 13 (May, 2013), might assert his superior pedigree, he faltered. After winning a crazy opening point that featured lobs from both players, he lost four points in a row – the last two with a double fault and a forehand unforced error – to drop serve as well as the set.
In the second set, Auger-Aliassime again got an early break – to 3-1. But this time there was no real challenge from the Frenchman and the 17-year-old Canadian took control – his confidence on full display when he hit a beautiful second serve ace to make it 40-love on his way to taking a 5-2 lead.
The numbers were solid for Auger-Aliassime he was 25/16 in the winners to unforced errors ratio while Pouille was 14/20.
With the victory, Auger-Aliassime moves up to a career best No. 119 in the ATP ‘live’ rankings and now has a 4-6 record in ATP main-draw tournaments this year – his other wins have come against No. 75-ranked Vasek Pospisil in Indian Wells, No. 157 Andrej Martin of Slovakia in Umag, Croatia, and No. 118 Guido Andreozzi of Argentina in Gstaad, Switzerland, two weeks ago.
Auger-Aliassime can often seem wise beyond his years, as he did when he spoke about what it takes to compete with a top-20 player like Pouille. “To beat guys like that you’ve got to believe in your game,” he said. “Basically you have to believe you can win the match. What I wanted to do today is implement my game-plan from the start, which I was able to do. Whether it was on serve with a good percentage of first serves or to play well in the important moments and be able to save break points, I was good. I also made a high percentage of returns so I think he felt the pressure from the very start on both ends. The real key was to maintain my level for the whole match.”
Describing where he places the win in his young career as a professional, he said, “he (Pouille) is a top-20 player and he’s been there for several years. To beat a guy like that in two sets – it’s a win that will stay with me. It’s also my first win at the Rogers Cup and it’s my best career win.”
Auger-Aliassime, 16 months younger than Shapovalov who reached the semi-finals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal last year, has a remarkable maturity – even described as a kind of on-court serenity by one Francophone reporter from Montreal. Explaining himself as best he could, Auger-Aliassime said, “it’s all part of playing matches. In a young career like mine, first off you lose matches like that. And I’ve lost matches this year where I wasn’t as calm as I should have been – or having the serenity to serve well and finish off matches. I think today everything was in place. I had the confidence I could close out a match like that.”
He went on, “I think it comes from discussions with coaches. And it comes from practice, everything comes from practice. If I have good practice habits, good things will happen in matches.”
“I’m proud of the way I played,” he said about a day when he hit his fair share of spectacular shots. “It’s the tennis I want to play and the tennis I can play and the level I can play. The way I comported myself, that’s the way I want to carry myself throughout my career. To be able to do that today was good.”
Present watching the match, but in different locations at the Aviva Centre, were his sister Malika, mother Marie and father Sam.
Many media people at the Rogers Cup are encountering Auger-Aliassime for the first time and so he was asked about the origins of his name. “My dad is an African immigrant (from Togo),” he said. “And when my parents arrived in Montreal, I was born and they decided to give me both names. “The reason why…also my dad insisted that my mom’s name was in there just to give me the Quebec recognition, a Quebec name. So that’s one of the reasons why I have the Auger in my name. And, yeah, I’m planning on keeping it.”
Next for Auger-Aliassaime is a match on Wednesday night against 22-year-old Daniil Medvedev. It’s a first meeting for the Auger-Aliassime with the No. 68-ranked Russian but Shapovalov has played him twice – beating him 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Washington last week and 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 in the first round of the 2017 US Open.
“He’s a bit of an atypical player,” Auger-Aliassime said about the 6-foot-6 Medvedev. “He hits flat off both sides and has a very good serve. He’s not a player who gives you much rhythm. Denis beat him last week and so I’ll ask him a bit about how he plays. There are no easy matches in a draw like this one.”
Shapovalov didn’t exactly confirm that notion when he broke out of the gates fast on Tuesday night – overwhelming Chardy and jumping to a 5-0 lead in what eventually wound up being just a 63-minute encounter.
“I had an unbelievable start,” said Shapovalov, from nearby Richmond Hill, Ont., in his post-match, on-court interview. “When I play at home I tend to loosen up and it’s just because of you guys (the crowd). I don’t think I’ve ever served this well – so credit to my mom.”
He won 80 per cent of his first-serve points and acknowledged his mother, Tessa Shapovalova, who’s coaching him this week with co-coach Martin Laurendeau still at home in Montreal with a debilitating back problem.
“I’ve been working a lot with my mom on my serve,” Shapovalov said. “Today it it showed huge improvement.”
He elaborated on his relationship with 49-year-old Tessa Shapovalova, who once played on the tour and ranked as high as No. 445 while representing Russia. “She does a really good job of being my mom off court and giving me my space and, you know, loving me,” Shapovalov said. “While on the court she’s tough and she keeps me disciplined and she’s my coach. She’s not my mom on court. “I feel like we’ve really found that balance together, and it’s been really good the past couple of weeks. I feel like I’ve improved a lot. She’s got a great eye for the game and she knows my game better than anybody – better than even I do. So that’s what I feel makes her such a great coach.”
Shapovalov, who made a special effort to recognize wheelchair tennis by walking out for his match against Chardy with old acquaintance Daniela from the Mississauga Little Aces program, was sharp both serving and returning. He converted on three of five break point opportunities while fending off all six of Chardy’s chances.
He’s playing this year’s Rogers Cup following his huge break-through in Montreal a year ago with that semi-final run that included beating both Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal.
“I’ve become way more professional,” he said about how he’s improved over the past 12 months. “I feel like last year when I was coming out to these matches I had to close my eyes and try to hit the lines to win the matches – whereas now I feel like I’m able to compete with any of the players on any day. My game is just there, you know, game-wise and physically.”
He insisted he is not concerned about having to defend the 360 points (45 points already accounted for with Tuesday’s win) he’s defending from his Montreal success a year ago. “I’m really not thinking about the points,” he said. “I’m only 19 years old. Even if I don’t defend them, I’ll have so many chances in the next couple years to make semis, or whatever, again. So I’m really not thinking about that. “I’m just going out there like tonight and enjoying myself.”
In an afternoon match on Wednesday, Shapovalov plays the always unpredictable but supremely talented Fabio Fognini. Currently ranked No. 14, the 31-year-old Italian is comes in off a title (beating del Potro in the final) in Los Cabos, Mexico on Saturday.
“He’s been playing unbelievable tennis and the past couple weeks has shown that he’s a good hard-court player as well,” Shapovalov said about Fognini – something of a wizard with a racquet who frequently doesn’t have the mental acumen to go along with his exceptional skills. “So it’s going to be a tough match. I feel like if I play my game and I’m playing good, I’ll be able to put up a fight and maybe even potentially win the match.”
A year ago, during his magical run in Montreal, Shapovalov stayed in Auger-Aliassime’s basement. Practicality has prevailed this time and Auger-Aliassime is staying at a hotel in Toronto that’s closer to the York University tournament site.
On Wednesday, Auger Aliassime celebrates his 18th birthday – an age important to many young Quebecers because it means they’re of legal age for voting and consuming alcohol.
“All year I’ve been waiting for that moment,” he said Tuesday about his birthday. “I think for very adolescent – forget about me being the tennis player that I am – I’m a normal adolescent. So I was really anxious to turn 18. But the fact that I’m playing match tomorrow (Wednesday), my priorities are somewhere else. I’ll probably celebrate later in the summer.”
Another thing he could be celebrating sooner than later is being in the top rungs on tennis with the No. 26-ranked Shapovalov. The latter certainly believes that and said on court Tuesday night about his great pal, “with the potential that he has, he’ll be where I am pretty soon.”
In the first match of the centre court day session on Tuesday, Stan Wawrinka came back from a one set deficit to defeat Nick Kyrgios 1-6, 7-5, 7-5.
Kyrgios – with tape on both knees and receiving a medical time-out to get his back massaged late in the second set – served big as did Wawrinka. The final set went on serve to 6-5 for Wawrinka. Often hitting second serves as big as first serves, Kyrgios missed three of six first serves in the final game and Wawrinka took advantage – drilling a backhand cross-court return that Krygios couldn’t handle with his backhand volley on match point.
Answering with curt replies at his post-match media conference, Kyrgios (getting cozy with Spider Cam above) said about his fitness, “my hip is obviously sore.”
In view of their controversial 2013 confrontation at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Kyrgios was generous in his comments about the state of Wawrinka’s game; “for Stan to get through matches like this, healthy, no pain, that’s a good sign for him. He’s playing a good level. He’s got a world-class backhand and matches like this are going to give him confidence. But I can’t take any positives away from this match at all.”
As for Wawrinka, almost exactly a year ago he had two surgeries on his left knee for cartilage damage – the second was much more serious and required a graft of tissue from his hip. Currently ranked No. 195 and with a modest 7-11 match record
so far in 2018, he said he’s being patient about getting back to the form that got him three Grand Slam titles and a career-high ranking of No. 3 in January, 2014. He also claimed he believes his good form in practice will eventually translate to match competition.
It’s fine to use an umbrella as protection from the sun – but the person sitting behind you may prefer to actually watch tennis as opposed to staring into a black blob.