There’s an expression in Québec – il perd les pédales – which literally means he’s losing the (bicycle) pedals. That’s what seemed to happen to Félix Auger-Aliassime in the second set of his semi-final with Daniil Medvedev at the US Open on Friday.
After dropping the first on a solitary break at 3-all, he came on strong in the second. He broke serve to lead 4-2 and held to 5-2 with Medvedev looking harried and tired. The No. 2 seeded Russian appeared vulnerable and genuinely rattled as Auger-Aliassime found his rhythm and was bossing most of the rallies.
Medvedev held serve to 3-5 and that’s where it started to go all wrong for Auger-Aliassime. But not until he had two set points serving at 5-3 – on the first Medvedev hit a strong forcing backhand down-the-line that Auger-Aliassime netted on the forehand. On the second, he elected to serve-and-volley but missed with a forehand volley into the net off a low return.
He lost the next two points, the first on an ill-advised drop shot attempt that Medvedev got to and put away, and the next on a backhand error by Auger-Aliassime.
It couldn’t be known at that time but the match had made a definitive final momentum shift – Medvedev on a streak, including another service break at 5-all, that saw him win 14 of 15 points.
The third set was more of the same – with breaks in the third and fifth games sealing Auger-Aliassime’s fate. The final score was 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, a match that lasted two hours and four minutes.
The reversal of fortune was hard to watch for Canadian tennis fans, especially because it looked as if Auger-Aliassime might have been able to continue his surge into the third set and beyond had he been able to convert either of those set points.
It was a discouraging way to end his first Grand Slam event semi-final, but some credit must go to Medvedev who recovered from that lull in the second set to totally dominant – with Auger-Aliassime having one chance to keep it close with a break point trailing 1-2 in the third set. But his forehand service return ended up in the net.
The winners to unforced errors ratios told the tale – with Medvedev 37/25 and Auger-Aliassime 17/39, and the 25-year-old Russian a perfect 5/5 on break-point conversions.
In his on-court interview after the match, Medvedev spoke about the abrupt turnaround in the ninth game of the second set with Auger-Aliassime serving. “He had two set points so the only thing I was thinking was ‘don’t make an ace on the line please – and I’m going to make you play.’”
Expanding about the next game when he held to make 5-all, Medvedev said, “at 5-4 (actually 4-5), I knew that now is a very important point of the match where I have to just do everything at my best, even more than before. Because that’s the moment where I could break him mentally, and that’s what happened.”
As for Auger-Aliassime, he summed up, “honestly the first set and until 5-3, 5-4 in the second set, I was playing as good as I could play. There was one game in the first set where I played great rallies, then I just missed whenever I was trying to come in. That’s all he needed – all he needed to break me.
“I thought he served amazing, I mean, the whole match, but especially in the first set. I didn’t get even to 30 I think. It was really tricky to return his serve today.”
There was one remarkable Medvedev serving stat from the opening set – he made 80 per cent of first serves (20/25), won 80 per cent (16/20) of his first-serve points and 80 per cent (4/5) of his second-serve points.
About the crucial service break in the 5-3 game in the second set, Auger-Aliassime said, “in that game I had gifted him a double fault at 30-love and from then I really feel like he just locked in. He made sure to make every ball to make me work – we had some amazing rallies. I missed that volley behind my serve (first set point) but it wasn’t an easy volley to make. I think I did everything I could in that game but he was also playing really good. Next time I’ll try to make a better effort to stick in the set mentally so that it doesn’t slip away that easily. Against a player like him, you don’t really have room for mistakes, room for losing your focus, which I did at the end of the second. He took advantage of it and I didn’t get another chance after that.”
Auger-Aliassime’s semi-final finish has moved his ranking up to No. 11, just 72 points behind No. 10 Casper Ruud. “I’ve put myself in a good position to attain this (top-10) goal. So now I’m going to try to push and keep my focus on my game, trying to play better.”
His next event will be the Laver Cup, in Boston from September 24-26. He will be a member of Team World with Denis Shapovalov, Diego Schwartzman, Nick Kyrgios, John Isner and Reilly Opelka.
Fernandez vs. Raducanu
It’s probably safe to say that there have never been two more unproven quantities than No. 73-ranked Leylah Fernandez and No. 150 Emma Raducanu in a Grand Slam tournament final.
On the surface, Fernandez looks more intense and driven on the court than Raducanu, who has a calmer, less fiery demeanour. Could that more equable manner give her an advantage, make her less vulnerable to nerves?
Fernandez is the slightly harder hitter, with probably a more well-rounded game-style – and then there’s the fact that she’s left-handed and Raducanu has not played a lefthander since Mariam Bolkvadze of Georgia in the second round of qualifying.
In a tournament full of tumult and surprises, it’s naïve for anyone to imagine it’s possible to predict a winner. But if the final follows the script of so many women’s matches so far at this US Open, it should be a good one and make for must-see viewing at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
From the archives
Some like to say that the (Grey Goose) Honey Deuce is to the US Open what the Mint Julep is to the Kentucky Derby. This particular Honey Deuce glass has been raised in five more years since 2016.
Feature Photo: camerawork usa