March 11

Félix Auger-Aliassime came within a whisker of producing a spectacular comeback but fell agonizingly short in a third-set tiebreak, losing 6-7(2), 6-4, 7-6(5) to Yoshihito Nishioka in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.

The hype surrounding the teenager is warranted and the spectators inside Indian Wells’ Stadium 2 won’t have gone home disappointed following this particular match. As has become customary, the Montreal-native was involved in a contest you just couldn’t take your eyes off – but, unfortunately, this one ended in defeat.

At times the 18-year-old was too hot to handle, salvaging points from seemingly impossible situations and serving up some of the quickest, most powerful shots of the tournament so far. At others, his game seemed slightly disjointed. For example, despite being far the better player, he was forced to settle the first set via a tie break – doing so in impressive fashion, winning it by seven points to two.

Auger-Aliassime made an effort to take hold of the second set much earlier. A double fault by Nishioka handed the Canadian the chance to take an early lead in the very first game. It was an opportunity the 18-year-old took gladly, firing a crosscourt backhand just beyond his opponent’s reach to claim the all-important break point.

However, Nishioka wasn’t about to throw in the towel. The 23-year-old showed great industry to manufacture a break point of his own, levelling the set up at three games apiece. Cutting a frustrated figure, Auger-Aliassime had suddenly lost his rhythm and soon dropped another service game to hand Nishioka the advantage.

As the threat of a rain delay beckoned, the 18-year-old fought back in a bid to wash away his opponent’s lead by immediately breaking Nishioka’s serve. But a couple of double faults and unforced errors saw the Canadian hand the initiative straight back, with the Japanese claiming the second set 6-4.

The deciding third set didn’t start too well for Auger-Aliassime either. Down 5-1 following some assertive play by Nishioka, all looked lost. But write off this kid at your peril. In a show of incredible character, the youngster nearly produced a tremendous comeback.

An injection of pace and increased intensity saw Auger-Aliassime win five of the next six games, breaking Nishioka twice. However, it was the Japanese who had all the answers in the resulting tiebreak, knocking Auger-Aliassime out of the tournament in heartbreaking fashion.

Despite the loss, it was an excellent week for the youngster. By reaching the third round, he’ll edge closer to the Top 50 in the world having started the season outside the Top 100. With little to defend in the coming weeks, all eyes will be on the 18-year-old’s ranking as he steadily climbs the ATP Tour ladder.

(Feature photo: Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)