Felix Auger-Aliassime follows through on a backhand on a clay court. He played Botic van de Zandschulp in his opening match in Rome on Saturday.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Félix Auger-Aliassime dug deep to battle past Botic van de Zandschulp and finally earn a win for the Canadians in singles in Rome on Saturday. 

The topsy-turvy battle, which saw the Dutchmean lead 5-1 in the second set, was eventually won by the 18th-seeded Auger-Aliassime, who used his heavy baseline hitting to claim a 6-1, 7-6(6) win. 

It was not the cleanest performance from the Canadian, who had six double-faults to three aces and 22 unforced errors compared to 20 winners. But he managed to convert four of his eight break points chances while saving five on seven on his own serve. 

Auger-Aliassime was opportunistic in the first set, converting the only two break points he had. Van de Zandschulp actually had more break chances with three in the fifth game after the Canadian struck first, but Auger-Aliassime was able to battle and consolidate his break.  

Read also: Arseneault, Dong Doube-Up at Home

In the following game, the Canadian broke again before serving out the set on a five-game run. 

Despite the lopsided scoreline in the opening set, van de Zandschulp was not going anywhere and began putting pressure on Auger-Aliassime’s serve early in the second. At the end of a marathon fourth game, having already escaped one break point, the Canadian dumped a poor drop shot into the net to finally surrender his serve. 

Read also: Félix’s Mural at IGA Stadium in Montreal

Another break put the Dutchman in position to serve out the second set, but Auger-Aliassime came back to life. His heavy groundstrokes were finding their mark and van de Zandschulp started to crack under the pressure. With error after error pouring off the Dutchman’s racket, Auger-Aliassime managed to reclaim both beaks of serve and leveled the set at 5-5. 

The comeback almost came up short when the Dutchman held a set point on the 18th seed’s serve at 5-6, 30-40, but some impressive hitting from Auger-Aliassime got him out of trouble. 

Read also: Auger-Aliassime Can’t Close Out Rublev in Madrid Final

In the tiebreak, Auger-Aliassime let an early minibreak slip away and then failed to convert his first match point. But after van de Zandschulp gifted the Canadian a chance on his own serve at 7-6 but flubbing a drop shot, Auger-Aliassime made no mistake, blowing his Dutch opponent off the court to finish off the match in straight sets. 

Auger-Aliassime is the only Canadian left in the draw in Rome after both Denis Shapovalov and Leylah Annie Fernandez lost their first-round matches.  

Next up for the Montrealer is the speedy ninth seed Alex de Minaur. Auger-Aliassime has won both of their meetings on the ATP Tour in straight sets, although both of those meetings were on hard courts. They have met once on clay on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2018, a match won by the Aussie in three sets.