Photo: Corinne Dubreuil / Open 13 Provence
Having claimed a career-first ATP title at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament last week, Félix Auger-Aliassime was gunning for a second crown in just seven days at the ATP 250 Open 13 Provence on Sunday. Unfortunately, the Canadian was beaten 7-5, 7-6(4) by Russia’s Andrey Rublev in the final in Marseille, France.
After receiving a bye in the first round, No. 3 seed Auger-Aliassime’s route to the final began with a 7-6(3), 6-2 victory over France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to seal a place in the quarter-finals. There, he saw off the challenge of Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 6-3, 6-4 to set up a semi-finals clash with Russia’s Roman Safiullin, which he won 7-6(4), 7-6(5).
Rublev, meanwhile, started his tournament with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) triumph over France’s Richard Gasquet before a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 win over Lucas Pouille, also of France, in the quarters. In the semi-finals, a third player from France stood in his way, No. 9 seed Benjamin Bonzi. Rublev, seeded No. 2, saw off the challenge with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory.
Heading into the final, Auger-Aliassime and Rublev’s head-to-head record sat at 2-1 in the Russian’s favour. Their first meeting came in Umag, Croatia in 2018, which Rublev claimed 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3 and their second clash was in Adelaide, Australia in 2020 which resulted in a 7-6(5), 6-7(7), 6-4 win for the 24-year-old from Moscow. Their most recent meeting, however, came just last week in the semi-finals in Rotterdam, where Auger-Aliassime battled to a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-2 comeback victory.
Having reached the final of this event in 2020, losing to Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, Auger-Aliassime began Sunday’s championship match with a steely determination. The Canadian broke his opponent’s serve at the first time of asking, but the Russian fought back immediately to bring proceedings back onto level terms.
Serving at 5-5, Auger-Aliassime got himself into a spot of bother as Rublev went 0:40 up, setting up three break point opportunities. The Russian needed just one, however, as he fired a strong crosscourt forehand before a deft volley at the net to claim the point before serving out the set with little fuss.
Rublev took confidence from that first-set triumph and made an early move in the second as he went a break up thanks to a fierce backhand down the line at 15:40 on Auger-Aliassime’s serve. The Canadian brought himself back onto level terms immediately but could not stop Rublev from claiming consecutive breaks to retake his lead, which he then extended to 5-3 on his own serve.
Auger-Aliassime, though, turned the tables on his opponent, fighting back bravely to win the next three consecutive games and force a set-deciding tiebreak. Patient play from Rublev and a series of uncharacteristic unforced Auger-Aliassime errors gave the Russian a valuable head start in the tiebreaker. It was an advantage he would not pass up as Rublev claimed his first ATP title of the 2022 season.