Felix Auger-Aliassime hits a forehand.

Photo : @bcnopenbs

Playing in his second match of the day, Félix Auger-Aliassime faced clay-court specialist Diego Schwartzman for a spot in the Barcelona Open semi-finals. The Canadian’s previous best result at the event was in 2021, when he lost in the quarter-finals to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Prior to today’s contest, Auger-Aliassime and Schwartzman were all square at one win apiece in their head-to-head series. Auger-Aliassime, who is now ranked ninth in the world, soared past the Argentinian in their most recent meeting at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in 2021 by a score of 6-1, 6-3. Today’s match was a much closer affair.

In the opening frame, Auger-Aliassime’s slight edge in the service department was enough to carry him through the set. The world No. 9 won 66 per cent of service points and broke his opponent twice to claim the set 6-3.

Schwartzman, who has a 14-4 record on clay in 2022, managed to regain his rhythm in the second set and started to apply much more pressure on Auger-Aliassime’s serves, especially his second serves. The Argentinian broke Auger-Aliassime in the fourth and eighth games to take the second set 6-2, sending the exciting contest to a decider. 

In the fourth game of the third set, tied at 30-30, Auger-Aliassime went for the crafty drop shot but came up just short, giving Schwartzman the first look at break. The Argentinian then hit a sensational passing shot, converting on the break point to take the 3-1 lead.

Auger-Aliassime had a fantastic opportunity to strike back in the seventh game, up 40-love on Schwartzman’s serve. However, the tenacious Schwartzman fought back and eventually saved four break points to conserve his lead. He would clinch the match in the ninth game, winning the contest  3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Despite the loss, Auger-Aliassime had a promising week in Barcelona, winning consecutive matches for the first time in two months. He will look to build on his performance as he inches closer to the French Open.

This morning’s match

In the first of two matches on Friday for the Canadian, Auger-Aliassime was able to use his consistency and deep hitting to wear down his powerful neighbour to the south, advancing to his first quarter-final since February with a 7-5, 6-4 victory.

The match was originally supposed to be played on Thursday, but was delayed to due rain.

Consistency proved critical for the Canadian who hit 22 winners to just 14 errors, while his opponent committed 23 errors while only striking 18 winners. Auger-Aliassime kept his opponent under pressure on serve all day, feasting on the Tiafoe second serve by winning 67 percent of those points and creating a dozen break points, of which he converted four.

The back-to-back wins are Auger-Aliassime’s first since he reached the Marseille final in February. Since then, he had gone 1-4 before Barcelona, including three opening-match losses at the season’s first three Masters 1000 events.

25 hours after the match was originally supposed to start, it was Tiafoe who came out firing, causing Auger-Aliassime some early difficulties on serve with his big hitting. However, it was the American who first had to stare down break points, escaping a 15-40 hole in the sixth game with back-to-back unreturnable serves.

As the set went along, Auger-Aliassime got more comfortable with his serve and controlling the long rallies. Tiafoe, on the other hand, got more tentative and errors began to creep into his game. The American ultimately cracked at the biggest moment, ripping as backhand wide on break point at 5-6 to drop the opening set.

It appeared that Tiafoe was unphased by the late break, as he raced out of the gate in the second set, breaking Auger-Aliassime twice on his way to a 3-0 lead.

However, as quickly as he built the momentum, it vanished. The Canadian responded with a four-game run of his own to get back on serve and go ahead 4-3.

Like in the first set, Auger-Aliassime pounced as his opponent served to stay alive. A fortunate net cord on a passing shot at 5-4, 30-all gave the Canadian a match point where he ripped a forehand winner to reach the last eight.

Later on Friday, Auger-Aliassime will meet either Diego Schwartzman or Lorenzo Musetti, who beat the Canadian last week in Barcelona.