Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

The Canadians hardly had it easy, but both Félix Auger-Aliassime and Leylah Annie Fernandez won their opening matches at the Mutua Madrid Open on Thursday. 

Both Canadians had to battle after slow starts but managed to grit through to advance to the second and third round respectively. 

Auger-Aliassime got through to the second round of the Madrid Open by defeating Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in 2 hours, 20 minutes.  

The Montreal native responded from a slow start, firing 11 aces and hitting 32 winners to overcome a strong physical challenge from his opponent.

Nishioka, ranked 78th on the ATP Tour, was the more consistent of the two players early in the encounter. The 28-year-old left hander broke in the opening service game of the match, aided by a pair of unforced errors from the Canadian. He would keep hold of that early advantage with effective serving, and staved off both break points he faced to grab the opening set 6-4.

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The Canadian quickly turned the tide in the second, dictating play with his serve and relying heavily on his forehand wing to gain control from the back of the court.

He built a strong lead, winning five consecutive games, seizing a pair of breaks off the left-hander’s serve; closing with a love hold, the Montreal native won the second set in just 34 minutes.

The margins closed significantly in the third with both players trading holds through the first six games of action. Nishioka found more success extending rallies past nine shots, whereas Auger-Aliassime won the bulk of the shorter exchanges.

Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

The Canadian finally capitalized on his first break opportunity in the seventh game, breaking Nishioka for a crucial 4-3 lead.

The Japanese managed to save one match point at 5-3, but Auger-Aliassime would not be denied, closing out the match to love on his serve.

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With the victory, Auger-Aliassime improves his head-to-head against his Japanese opponent to 3-2 and moves to 12-10 on the season overall. He’s also an impressive 9-2 in opening-round matches in 2024.

The world number 35, who reached the Madrid quarterfinals in 2022, joins fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the round of 64.

The 23-year-old will face 19th-seeded Adrian Mannarino of France on Saturday.

Fernandez Overcomes Slow Start in Madrid 

Leylah Annie Fernandez was the third of the three Canadians in the singles draws in Madrid to get her campaign underway, but unlike her male counterparts, she had a first-round bye and managed to get through her first match in straight sets. 

Despite falling behind quickly in her second-round match with Anastasia Potapova, the Canadian managed to find her game as the match went along, gritting out a 7-5, 6-3 win. 

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Return largely dominated the match, as both women won less than 40 per cent of their second serve points and were broken multiple times, but Fernandez was effective with her first serve, winning 71 per cent of those points and saved six of nine break points on her serve, while converting five of eight chances on Potapova’s delivery. 

It took some time for Fernandez to find a rhythm on serve to start the match, as she was broken in each of her first three service games. However, she broke Potapova twice in the early stages to keep her opponent within reach. 

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Still down a break and serving to stay in the set at 3-5, the Canadian managed to save four break points that were also set points to stay in it. She then finally caught up in the following game, racing ahead love-40 and converting her second break point to get back on serve at 5-5. 

When it was Potapova’s turn to serve to stay in the set in the 12th game, Fernandez took her opportunity, breaking to love to wrap up the opening set after taking six of the last seven games. 

Potapova had a chance to regain the momentum when she held break points in the opening game of the second set but Fernandez was able to escape and then settled in on serve, losing just one point in her next two service games. 

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As the match went along, Fernandez’s solid play and refusal to give anything away seemed to be getting into Potapova’s head. Poorly-timed errors started to cost the 23-year-old, none bigger than a double-fault on break point in the sixth game to give the Canadian a 4-2 lead. 

That was enough for Fernandez, who hung on to her serve for two more games to punch her ticket to round three. 

Fernandez is through to the third round in Madrid for the first time in her career. She will face world No. 9 and 2022 champion Ons Jabeur next. The Tunisian has won both previous meetings on tour in three sets, although they have not played since 2021 and have never played on clay.