Felix Auger-Aliassime backhand 2022 Rotterdam Open

Photo: @abnamrowtt

Even while enjoying the most promising form of his young career, Félix Auger-Aliassime knew a top-class performance would be required to beat No. 2 seed and defending champion Andrey Rublev of Russia in the semi-finals of the ATP 500 ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. And the Canadian produced just that as he claimed a thrilling 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2 victory to set up a mouth-watering clash with No. 1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece on Sunday.

No. 3 seed Auger-Aliassime previously reached the final of this tournament in 2020, when he was beaten by France’s Gael Monfils. In the lead up to this match against Rublev, the 21-year-old Montrealer had dropped just a single set on his way to beating Belarus’ Egor Gerasimov and British duo Andy Murray and Cameron Norrie.

Rublev, meanwhile, had enjoyed straight-sets victories over Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland, South Korea’s kwon Soo-woo and Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics. Their head-to-head record was firmly in the Russian’s favour with Rublev having beaten Auger-Aliassime in their two previous meetings (Umag, 2018 and Adelaide, 2020).

With an ATP Cup title and Australian Open quarter-finals berth already under his belt, Auger-Aliassime has been showing a steely determination and will to win so far in 2022. That momentum carried into this match as the Canadian went blow for blow with his opponent with just two rankings’ places between the 21-year-old Quebecer (No. 9) and the 24-year-old from Moscow (No. 7).

There was nothing to separate the two players in the first set, which looked destined to be heading for a tiebreak. That was until, with a 6-5 lead, Auger-Aliassime went 0:40 up on Rublev’s serve. The Russian did well to deny him on all three break point opportunities, and for a fourth time when Auger-Aliassime had the advantage at deuce, before seeing out the game to force a tiebreaker.

Rublev immediately carved out an advantage by going a minibreak ahead, which he went on to consolidate to 3-0. Auger-Aliassime got himself back on level terms as the duo continued to put on a breathless spectacle. It was Rublev, however, who came out on top as his strong forehand on set point could only be returned into the net by the Canadian.

Onto the second set, which remained on serve until the ninth game when Auger-Aliassime battled hard to earn a break point opportunity. As he had done all match when backed into a corner, Rublev produced a powerful first serve, but Auger-Aliassime returned it well and the Russian hit his resulting shot wide left. The Canadian wasn’t about to pass up the chance to draw level and served out the final game without a hitch to force a third and deciding set.

The match was turning into a true classic and it seemed fitting that it would take one last squeeze of effort from both players to crown a winner. Auger-Aliassime, brimming with confidence after clinching the previous set in style, made a rip-roaring start to the third, holding his serve to love before breaking Rublev to take a decisive lead. Frustration soon took hold of the Russian, who made another unforced error at the crucial moment to hand Auger-Aliassime a second break.

The opportunity presented to him was one Auger-Aliassime took to its fullest, seeing out the third set 6-2. The Canadian will now face top-seeded Tsitsipas in the final. The Greek was tested briefly by his semi-final opponent Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic but battled back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.