Photo : BNP Paribas Open
Down a set, down a break in the third set, down triple match point twice. Tennis players are not supposed to win matches under those circumstances.
But Félix Auger-Aliassime did on Tuesday night in Indian Wells.
The Canadian mounted a thrilling comeback to stun Tommy Paul in the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open, saving six match points to book a quarter-final clash with top seed Carlos Alcaraz.
The 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) victory for Auger-Aliassime sends him into his sixth consecutive Masters 1000 quarter-final, a streak dating back to Madrid last year.
In the first meeting between the pair on the ATP Tour, the Canadian pounded a dozen aces, although he also threw in seven double faults, and won 78 per cent of his first serve points. The match was on his racket for most of the night as he had an even 31 winners and unforced errors, both considerably higher than Paul’s 13 winners and 17 unforced errors.
In the end, Auger-Aliassime won just four more points than his American opponent.
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The forehand was clicking for Auger-Aliassime right from the start of the match, but Paul was doing everything in his power to keep the ball away from the Canadian’s biggest weapon. That forehand was just about the only thing working for Auger-Aliassime early on as, after it failed to deliver him a break in the nine-minute opening game despite three break points, he struggled to find his serve and was broken to go down 0-2.
Throughout the match, Auger-Aliassime was pounding his forehand with authority whenever Paul was unable to direct the ball to the Canadian’s backhand. However, that powerful forehand was still relatively ineffective in terms of ending points.
Playing catch-up was not a position the Canadian wanted to be in, although he would get used to it as the night went along, and he narrowly avoided falling into a deeper hole when he saved three break points with some bold hitting to stay within reach at 2-4.
After avoiding going down the double break, Auger-Aliassime had a chance to get back on level terms when he had a 15-40 opening in the next game, but missed a passing shot and then netted a return. Untimely errors ultimately prevented him for clawing back the opening set.
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A far more solid Auger-Aliassime came out to start the second set. The serve, which had been inconsistent in the opener, settled down and was borderline untouchable as the Canadian lost just three points on serve in the entire set and won all 13 on his first serve.
When the door opened on return, Auger-Aliassime finally managed to burst through as his powerful hitting finally coaxed some critical errors out of his American opponent, who mishit back-to-back forehands to surrender the break.
A love hold from Auger-Aliassime sent the match to a deciding set. He won the last nine points on his own serve in the set.
But just as the second set was unrecognizable from the first, the third was yet another reset as the Canadian reverted to his first set form, throwing in a sloppy first service game as he was broken and fell behind 0-3.
However, the story of the third set quickly became about Auger-Aliassime’s “never say die” attitude.
After a nervy hold in the fourth game that easily could have become a double-break lead for the American, Auger-Aliassime took advantage of a poor game from Paul to break back before levelling at 3-3.
With chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” raining down from the partisan crowd, the Canadian looked down and out when he double-faulted to give Paul three match points at 5-6, 0-40 in the decider. However, the Canadian bombed a big serve and then his opponent missed a pair of shots wide to erase the first trio.
Two big serves later and the match was off to a tiebreak, where it was Auger-Aliassime jumping out to an early 3-1 lead with a minibreak. But Paul looked destined to reach his third Masters 1000 quarter-final when he won five points in a row, courtesy of a few missed forehands from the Canadian, to give himself three more match points at 6-3.
Auger-Aliassime easily erased the first two with monster serves and then let his ground game do the work on the third, bludgeoning the American until a huge forehand drew an error. More big hitting from the Canadian provided him with his first match point and as he had in the most important moments for the last two sets, Auger-Aliassime found a big serve to seal the improbable victory.
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His reward is a meeting with top seed Carlos Alcaraz in the quarter-finals. Auger-Aliassime has won all three of their previous meetings, all on hard courts, including two last fall when the Spaniard was ranked No. 1 in the world. However, those two wins were both indoors. The Canadian won their lone outdoor clash at the 2021 US Open when Alcaraz retired in the second set.
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It is proving to be a busy tournament for Auger-Aliassime, who is still alive in both the singles and doubles draws. He will contest the doubles quarter-final tomorrow alongside countryman Denis Shapovalov. They play Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden.
Also still alive in doubles is Gabriela Dabrowski, who advanced to the quarter-finals on Thursday alongside partner Luisa Stefani with a straight-set win over Erin Routliffe and Alexa Guarachi. The Canadian/Brazillian duo will meet Miyu Kato and Aldila Sutjiadi, who upset the second seeds Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, for a spot in the semifinals.