Photo : Mauricio Paiz
In what will surely be one of the more memorable matches in his career, Félix Auger-Aliassime accomplished the rare feat of twice saving triple match point in defeating Tommy Paul 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(6) in the round-of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday night.
The No. 8 seeded Canadian had a poor start in the opening set but gradually began to impose his more powerful baseline game and timely serving.
From one-way traffic in the No. 19-ranked American’s favour, Auger-Aliassime came on in the second set and finally gained an edge by breaking serve to 5-3. When he then served out to love, all bets were off as to who would emerge the winner.
The third set almost got away when Paul broke to 2-0, after an awful game by Auger-Aliassime, and then stretched his lead to 3-0 and even had deuce twice in the following game to possibly put the match out of reach for good. But Auger-Aliassime held serve to 3-1 and broke back to 3-2 and leveled at 3-all with the match whirling into what would become the madcap mania of its climax.
Shouts of “USA, USA” and “Let’s go Felix” ping-ponged back-and forth as the highly-engaged Stadium 2 spectators got into it in what Auger-Aliassime later described as 50-50 partisanship.
Serving at 5-6, he trailed love-40 – triple match point – but stayed strong to dominate rallies and draw errors from Paul.
Then in the tiebreak, things went haywire again as Auger-Aliassime led 3-1 only to have Paul turn it around and win five points in a row to set up triple match point for a second time. At that critical juncture, the Auger-Aliassime serve – a definite advantage he held over Paul all night – came to the fore. He saved the first two match points with service winners and then got an forehand error from Paul to level at 6-all.
A relieved Auger-Aliassme had to be feeling bullet proof and the final two points were not entirely unexpected from a star-crossed Paul – a backhand error followed by a forehand error. It was well after midnight and the match duration Rolex clock on court read two hours and 44 minutes.
Early on, Paul had been more efficient and opportunistic but when Auger-Aliassime finally dialed in during the second set his superior firepower showed – often in points that began with backhand-to-backhand rallies.
The final stats indicated where the bigger shots were coming from – Auger-Aliassime had 31 winners / 51 unforced errors while Paul had 13 winners / 33 unforced errors.
Auger-Aliassime couldn’t remember ever winning after saving so many match points, and certainly not saving three in a row twice.
“Obviously I’m thrilled to win, and Tommy also deserved to win this match,” he said. “Every thing was going normal, it was a good match. Then at 5-6, love-40, I said to myself, ‘if I can win this first point and then the next and the next,’ I’d have a chance to win. That’s what I did. I’m proud of my effort, proud of my attitude. That really what has gotten me into the next round.”
Deconstructing the match points, the 22-year-old Montrealer said, “the luck that I had was that I served really well on four of the six match points. At 3-6 (in the tiebreak), two service winners. If I had to play a rally in each of the six match points, maybe things wouldn’t be the way they are now. The luck I had was that I served really well when I needed to. Then I played a good rally at 5-6. It’s a funny sport but I’m glad I was strong between the ears.”
The victory – Auger-Aliassime has now reached six Masters 1000 tournament quarter-finals in a row – sets up a big match-up with world No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz on Thursday.
Auger-Aliassime leads their head-to-head 3-0 – including a win by retirement at the 2021 US Open and two victories in September/October last year at the Davis Cup in Valencia, Spain, four days after the Alcaraz won the US Open, and then indoors in Basel.
“It’s nice to have a record like I do with him before the quarter-final in two days,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But the fact is he’s a very good player and I’ll have to play a lot better than I did today.”
It was 1 a.m. when he finished his press conference with two Canadian journalists. Asked when he expected to fall asleep, he answered, “in a couple of hours. I’ll probably listen to some classical music.”
BNP PARIBAS OPEN DOUBLES
In women’s round-of-16 action on Tuesday, Gabriela Dabrowski and her Brazilian partner Luisa Stefani advanced to the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Erin Routliffe of New Zealand. They will now face the Japanese/Indonesian pairing of Miya Kato and Aldila Sutjiadi. Kato and Sutjiadi upset the second-seeded Americans Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula 6-4, 4-6, [12-10].
The unseeded pairing of Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov received a walkover in round two of men’s doubles and Wednesday evening will play their quarter-final against Matthew Ebden of Australia and Rohan Bopanna of India.
BOUCHARD & MIAMI OPEN QUALIFYING
Genie Bouchard last played a match on January 9th, losing 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 to No. 181 Ashlyn Krueger, 18, of the U.S. in the Australian Open qualifying.
She is tentatively scheduled to return to action, after a knee issue, for the Miami Open qualifying next week. Currently ranked No. 319, Bouchard will use her protected ranking of No. 118 for entry.
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Canada’s Katherine Sebov, who qualified for her first Grand Slam event at the Australian Open, received a wild card into qualifying.
At the top of the list for the qualifying (and very likely to get into the main draw with a player withdrawal) is No. 75-ranked Caty McNally of the U.S. The cut-off for the qualifying will be somewhere around No. 100.