Photo : Pascal Ratthe/Tennis Canada
Down a set and a break, it looked like Félix Auger-Aliassime’s run in Cincinnati was over. Even more so when he found himself facing double match point.
Instead, the Canadian completed one of the most impressive comebacks of his career, defeating 10th seed Jannik Sinner to reach the quarter-finals of the Western and Southern Open with an improbable three-set win.
The Italian looked in control after cruising through the opening set and breaking serve midway through the second, but Auger-Aliassime found his best tennis with his back against the wall, recovering the break, saving a pair of match points, before turning on the jets to claim a 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-1 win.
He is through to his fourth Masters 1000 quarter-final in a row. He also reached the last eight in Cincinnati a year ago.
First serves were huge for Auger-Aliassime, as he won 79 percent of those points to just 41 percent of his seconds, although that final number was good considering he only won one point on his second serve in the first set. The Canadian did everything just a bit better than his young opponent in the end, hitting more winners 34 to 27 and committing fewer unforced errors 24 to 30.
In his opening match, Auger-Aliassime broke at the first opportunity in each set, but he got a taste of his own medicine on Thursday, sending a forehand wide to surrender the break in his first service game.
Despite starting to find a more consistent level as the set went along, the Canadian was unable to solve Sinner’s serve. He then gave the set away in the eighth game on his own delivery with back-to-back unforced errors.
Auger-Aliassime had a chance to turn the momentum around when he had a pair of break points at 15-40 in the opening game of the second set, but he missed three returns in a row which allowed the Italian to hold serve.
Sinner looked well on his way to the quarter-finals when he broke for a 4-2 lead, but for the first time all match his level began to drop and a series of missed backhands in the following game allowed the Canadian to break back.
The Italian again appeared to have one foot in the last eight when he had two match points on Auger-Aliassime’s serve at 5-6, but he missed a routine forehand on the first before having the second snatched away with a perfect serve+one from his opponent.
Those missed opportunities proved costly for Sinner immediately, as he missed another backhand on the first point of the tiebreak and Auger-Aliassime made him pay, racing out to a 4-0 lead and never looking back, taking the breaker 7-1 to force the match to a deciding set.
Auger-Aliassime had found his rhythm and carried it into the third set, bludgeoning Sinner with his deep, powerful groundstrokes. He induced a ton of errors off the Italian’s racket and was rewarded with an early break, racing out to a 3-0 lead.
Once ahead, there was no let-up from the Canadian. He broke again, courtesy of some baseline-painting backhands, to set himself up to serve for the match at 5-1 and closed it out, fittingly, by drawing an error with a monstrous penetrating forehand.
Now Auger-Aliassime will look to go one better than he did last year in Cincinnati, and better than his previous three Masters 1000 quarter-finals this year, when he meets Borna Coric in the last eight. The Canadian beat Coric to reach his only Masters 1000 semifinal in Miami in 2019. Their head-to-head is tied 1-1, with both matches coming in 2019 at Masters 1000 events, the Miami meeting being the only one on hard courts.