Photo: Martin Sidorjak/Tennis Canada
It was a long day at the office for Félix Auger-Aliassime on Friday at the Italian Open in Rome that ultimately ended in disappointment for the Montreal native. The 22-year-old was ousted 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 by Australia’s Alexei Popyrin in his opening match at the ATP Masters 100 tournament. It was a long, tightly contested encounter that went past the three-hour mark and ultimately, Popyrin came up with the goods in crunch time to come away with the victory.
The opening set remained even until 4-4 when Popyrin, ranked no. 77 in the world, won an extended game that went on for more than 10 minutes on Auger-Aliassime’s serve to earn the decisive break and earn the early advantage.
It looked like the Aussie might be headed for a straight sets win as he continued to push Auger-Aliassime with an intelligent all-around game that was really clicking, especially at net with multiple impressive volleys, but the world no. 10 held firm and elevated his play just in time to get a hold and a break from 4-4 to level the match.
The two players continued to go toe-to-toe in the final frame and once again it was Popyrin who had all the break point chances, 16 in total during the contest, and he finally converted one in the tenth game at 5-5 thanks to a highlight reel backhand passing shot winner that left Auger-Aliassime stunned. He successfully served out the match to notch his third Top 10 victory of the 2023 season, two of which have come against the Canadian No. 1. Popyrin, who took home the French Open junior title in 2017, also beat Auger-Aliassime on home soil in Adelaide in January.
Friday’s loss means that Auger-Aliassime enters the second Grand Slam event of the year at Roland-Garros without a singles win on clay, so the hope is that the extra practice time will help him adequately prepare for Paris.
Andreescu Knocked Out by Vondrousova
Bianca Andreescu ran into an in-form Marketa Vondrousova during her first match at the Italian Open on Friday evening and had her short stay at the WTA 1000 come to an abrupt end following a disappointing 6-0, 6-1 loss to the former French Open finalist from the Czech Republic.
The 22-year-old Canadian, seeded no. 24 in Rome, simply had no answer for Vondrousova’s variety and precision on her groundstrokes as she dictated proceedings from start to finish which led to her winning twice as many points as her opponent in the 55-minute encounter.
Andreescu, who was playing just her second match since suffering an ankle injury in Miami, will look to put this loss in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible and shift her focus to Roland-Garros where she hopes to gain some valuable Grand Slam ranking points for her ongoing quest to climb back to the top of the women’s game.