Photo : Mathieu Belanger/Tennis Canada
Two Canadians will feature in the last sixteen at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati after both Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov advanced on Wednesday.
They did so in very different fashions, with the Montreal-native advancing with ease while the man from Richmond Hill had to pull off an improbable comeback.
To open the day, Auger-Aliassime was quick to put to a flat performance in the quarter-finals of the National Bank Open in Montreal behind him, cruising past Alex de Minaur in straight sets.
The Canadian, who reached the quarter-finals of Cincinnati a year ago, never trailed in his opening match at the 2022 event, breaking early in both sets to claim a 6-3, 6-2 victory.
It was a strong serving performance from Auger-Aliassime, as he struck nine aces, won 82 percent of his first serve points, and saved three of the four break points he faced. The Canadian was also stronger in rallies, nearly doubling the Aussie in the winners department 20 to 11.
Auger-Aliassime got off to quick starts in each sets, breaking de Minaur in the Australian’s first service game both times.
In the first, he had a tough time consolidating, needing to save a break point before holding for 3-0. That one break was enough to take the opening set. Auger-Aliassime got off to an even stronger start in the second, breaking twice as he raced out to a 4-0 lead.
This time, de Minaur was able to claw one of the breaks back, but there was no stopping the Canadian who immediately broke back to reclaim his double break before serving out the match.
Standing between Auger-Aliassime and a fourth-straight Masters 1000 quarter-final in 2022 will be 10th seed Jannik Sinner. The Canadian won their lone previous meeting, dropping only three games at the same stage earlier this year at the Masters 1000 event in Madrid.
Denis Shapovalov also got off to a quick start in his third-round match, but unlike Auger-Aliassime he was forced to battle to reach the third set, rallying from a set and a double-break down to defeat American Tommy Paul 3-6, 6-4 6-3.
Unlike his compatriot, Shapovalov had a hard time on serve, double-faulting ten times, only winning 35 percent of his second serve points and being broken four times. In the end, he only won three more points than Paul.
Taking to the court a few hours after Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov got off to a similar start, breaking in the first game of the match and holding for a 2-0 lead.
However, the Canadian struggled to find any semblance of consistency, particularly on his serve, and he lost the next five games in a row and 10 of the next 12 to go down a set and a double break at 4-1 in the second set. Three of the four breaks of serve came on double faults.
Just when it looked like Shapovalov was going to go away quietly, there was a bizarre plot twist. With Paul serving at 4-1, the match was briefly delayed while a fan in the stands received medical attention. The pause seemed to allow the Canadian to regroup as he broke serve in that game to kick off a run of five in a row, including three breaks of serve, sending the match to a decider when Paul dumped an easy volley into the net.
Shapovalov carried the momentum into the third set, where he broke early and raced out to a 3-0 lead, stretching his run to eight games in a row. That one break was enough to send him into the third round.
The Canadian No. 2 had won his first hard-court match of the summer on Monday, defeating 16th seed Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets. It is the first time since the Italian Open in May that the Canadian has won two matches in a row, having lost nine of his last ten entering Cincinnati. A third win a row will be a challenge, as he meets World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in the round of sixteen.
Gabriela Dabrowski got her run in Cincinnati off to a winning start with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Irina-Camelia Begu and Martina Trevisan. Dabrowski, who reached the final at the W&S Open last year, is seeded fifth with partner Giuliana Olmos.
Leylah Annie Fernandez was the lone Canadian woman competing in the singles draw in Cincinnati, but was defeated in her first-round match on Monday by Ekaterina Alexandrova on Monday 6-4, 7-5.