Félix Auger-Aliassime endured a wide range of emotions in overcoming dynamic Swede Mikael Ymer 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-1 in a second-round match at Wimbledon, and the experience may serve as a reference when he plays Nick Kyrgios on Saturday.
But it’s likely the 26-year-old Aussie will provide more consistent and distracting theatrics than resulted when Ymer slipped and injured his left hip leading 3-2 on serve in the third set in No. 2 Court on Thursday – a concerned Auger-Aliassime standing by and even handing him his racquet when he finally got to his feet.
Ymer went down in pain and eventually received courtside treatment from a trainer and was able to continue, pushing the third set to a tiebreak. But in that tiebreak, Auger-Aliassime managed to separate himself with some big serving and aggressive play.
On the day, it was the No. 16 seed’s serving that was the difference against an opponent he had not played since the pre-US Open, Canadian Junior International in Repentigny, Quebec, in 2014. Then a couple of weeks from turning 14, and Ymer, a few weeks from 16, Auger-Aliassime was beaten 6-2, 6-2 in the second round.
Now 22 and ranked No. 98, Ymer was playing in his first main draw at Wimbledon and not viewed as a big threat for Auger-Aliassime, 20. After a poor opening game when he lost his serve, the elastic Swede played inspired tennis – matching Auger-Aliassime from the baseline with his flowing, flat, penetrating ground strokes and his fleet-afoot movement about the court.
Auger-Aliassime won the first set but fell behind 0-2 in the second before breaking back to level at 4-all. He had a break point for 5-4 and looked like he might be about to regain control. But a missed second serve return and then, after Ymer held, he played an error-strewn game on his serve to lose the set.
The match appeared in the balance in the third set when Ymer slipped and went down hard, injuring his left hip. That led to a 10-minute delay with Ymer’s ability to continue in doubt even after he received treatment from the trainer and took anti-inflammatories.
He didn’t seem comfortable when the match resumed but gradually he found his game and held serve three times to force a tiebreak.
But once Ymer lost the tiebreak his spirit diminished and he lost 14 of the first 15 points in the fourth set while complaining (above) to umpire James Keothavong that the court was too slippery and that he was “afraid” about continuing. It was about 8:30 p.m. at that point, with at least a half hour of good light remaining. Wimbledon officials are always eager to keep their tournament on schedule – so play continued.
It’s easy to sympathize with Ymer – exactly 10 years ago Milos Raonic slipped at the back of Court 3 in a second round match and injured his right hip. He required surgery a few weeks later, didn’t play for three months and there has always been speculation that subsequent adductor, knee, calf and other injuries on his right side were related to the original hip issue.
Ymer finally won the fourth game of the fourth set from love-30 to trail 3-1, but that was his last gasp – Auger-Aliassime wrapped up things from there although he had a bit of a struggle to hold serve to 4-1.
As he has been doing on grass so far this year, Auger-Aliassime’s serving was top notch – he had 19 aces and only one double fault and made 72 percent of his first serves, won 80 per cent of first-serve points and 66 per cent of second serve points.
But there was a lapse in the second set and into the third when he didn’t play with the same command as he had early, and then late, in the match.
Ymer was certainly dazzling at times with his shot-making and exceptional speed – leading an obvious question about why he isn’t ranked higher than No. 98.
“Mikael impressed me a lot,” Auger-Aliassime said. “He was honestly playing really good from the start. I just felt like I had to earn every point. I served well again, so that got me to win my service games sometimes easier. He was solid and running well, putting a lot of balls back. It was really tricky.”
Auger-Aliassime confirmed that the conditions on No. 2 Court late in the match were dicey in terms of security of movement. “I had to kind of stay prudent and careful, maintain my focus,” he said. “But it was really slippery. In the fourth set it got a bit dark and humid. It was super slippery. I had to be careful.”
Being as it was Canada Day, he was permitted to make a Canadian joke about the situation, saying, “perhaps I should have taken out the skates at the end because it was crazy slippery to be honest.”
Into the third round for the second time in his only two appearances at Wimbledon, Auger-Aliassime now faces Kyrgios. They have played once – on the grass at Queen’s Club in 2019 and he won a close contest 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 7-5.
“He’s an amazing player,” Auger-Aliassime said about the Aussie who jokingly describes himself as ‘a part-time player.’ “He has everything that a player needs to play well, especially on grass. He serves amazing. It’s going to be a tough match for me. Nick is a great player, a great entertainer. I think he’s good for tennis. He seems focused and playing well the last few matches.”
Kyrgios was at his showman best in his opening round 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-1 9-7 victory over No. 21 seed Ugo Humbert. In that one he stirred the crowd into a frenzy with his antics and his revival from a seemingly disastrous fall in the final set. He went down at the back of No. 1 Court and was in agony for several minutes. It seemed like an ambulance might be needed but he got up – comically saying “good shot” to Humbert – and was able to be fit enough to continue and win the match.
The current world No. 60 consumes all the oxygen in an arena – not unlike John McEnroe in his heyday decades ago – acting as if he’s the only player out there who’s trying to win. In effect, he tries to have a home crowd for every match he plays, and usually he does.
On Thursday, he also used a bit of trickery after saving a set point at 5-6 in the first-set tiebreak against Gianluca Mager. Serving at 8-7, he faked to hit an underhand serve – prompting Mager to move forward to retrieve it – before hitting a conventional serve that forced a return error by the Italian.
“I’m quite lighthearted,” Kyrgios claimed Thursday after beating Mager 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-4. He added about the crowd, “they know it’s a bit of a show. They just want entertainment at the end of the day.”
But the umpires and other officials who have been loudly railed at, as well as opponents who have to endure his endless rants and histrionics, probably don’t really view him as “lighthearted” on the court.
Nice-guy Auger-Aliassime has been forewarned.
In the third match on Centre Court on Friday, Denis Shapovalov will face the living legend – and two-time Wimbledon champion – that is Sir Andy Murray. It will be a first meeting between the two, as well as Shapovalov’s debut on hallowed Centre Court.
“I think it’s always tough to play Andy,” Auger-Aliassime said about the challenge facing his friend Shapovalov. “He’s not going to give him anything easy. At the same time, Denis is better ranked at the moment. I think on paper he’s almost the favourite. That doesn’t mean much. When you step on Centre Court against Andy Murray in front of a packed crowd, a lot goes into that. I think if Denis can be aggressive like he can, be dominant behind the serve, I think he’s going to give himself a lot of good chances. I believe he can win that match. But all the matches are tough at this point. We’re in the third round now. There’s 32 players left. It’s never easy.”
The match will be played at roughly noon ET in Canada. Auger-Aliassime should know a thing or two about playing Murray – he defeated the 34-year-old Scot 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 in another great arena (although with no crowd) – Arthur Ashe Stadium – in New York in the second round of the 2020 US Open.
Looking ahead to Saturday on Wimbledon’s two main show-courts – Centre Court and No. 1 Court – it will be fascinating to see which men’s matches (three and possibly four) are scheduled under the retractable roofs in those stadiums. The candidates are Federer – Norrie, Medvedev – Cilic, Zverev – Fritz and Auger-Aliassime – Kyrgios.
The added significance is that there is currently an 80 per cent chance of rain on Saturday. So being on the order of play for those stadiums would be doubly important to be able to play and also be able to have the match finished so the winner gets a day off before so-called “Manic Monday” and all its men’s and women’s round-of-16 matches.
Obviously, Federer gets one spot. But Auger-Aliassime versus Kyrgios also has to be a pick, at least in terms of box office appeal. Stay tuned.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Friday, July 1, 2016.