In marked contrast to lengthy struggles in his two previous rounds, a masterful Félix Auger-Aliassime made quick work of Dan Evans 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 on Saturday to reach the round of 16 at the Australian Open.

It all started to look like a foregone conclusion as early as the beginning of the second set. The opening set got underway with music from the grounds wafting into 10,500-seat John Cain Arena and irritating Evans, a twitchy chap at the best of times. “It’s not like it’s a little bit loud, it’s like it’s on the court,” he complained to umpire Jaume Capistol after five games.

Auger-Aliassime came out smoking, winning his first 10 points on serve – 8/8 on first serve and 2/2 on second – right until he led 30-love in the fifth game. But the wheels briefly came off when Evans, despite the music persisting, won three points in a row to set up the first break point. A 17-stroke rally ensued and ended when Evans tried to unload on an aggressive forehand but missed it into the net.

He had another break point at 4-all – after the music had died – that one erased by Auger-Aliassime with a well-constructed point punctuated by a clean forehand winner.

In the following game trailing 4-5, it was Evans’ turn to face break point (also a set point) and he served-and-volleyed. In position for a finishing shot, the 31-year-old Brit buried a forehand swing volley in the net. That gave Auger-Aliassime the set in 48 minutes and the jump he needed to start outclassing his opponent for their remaining 65 minutes on court.

The second set unravelled rapidly for Evans when he lost his first two service games to trail 5-0 to a high-flying Auger-Aliassime doing it all – monster serving, hitting penetrating forehands and aggressively returning serve with pace and purpose.

Evans salvaged a game to avoid a bagel set but soon confronted the same predicament in the final set – getting broken to 2-1 and then 4-1 before finally missing long with a forehand on Auger-Aliassime’s first match point to put an end to a one-sided affair lasting an hour and 53 minutes.

Auger-Aliassime finished winning 91 per cent (39/43) of first serve points, out-acing Evans 16-1, hitting more winners (40-10) and putting 56 service returns in play to just 27 for Evans.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

“It’s definitely one of the best Grand Slam performances I’ve had,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s tough to (not) be more pleased than today’s match. We had a tight first set. Actually he had break points before me, and sometimes you’re fortunate. I was able to put in that return on break point (set point) and make him miss the swing volley.

“Knowing I was serving so well throughout the match and that I was feeling the ball well, I just knew that if I could keep going, good things would happen. Of course, I didn’t expect that score.”

Auger-Aliassime has now reached the fifth round of 16 in his 11th Grand Slam main draw – with a career-best showing being his 2021 US Open semi-final (lost to champion Daniil Medvedev). He remains cautious thinking about what might lie ahead at Melbourne Park. “I mean, like anybody, you project yourself, you have your goals, your objectives in the future,” he said, “but I really try to keep myself in the present, try to enjoy the moment.

“Putting myself in let’s say semifinals like I did in US Open is never easy. I came through two tough matches (Emil Ruusuvuori in the first round and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the second) that I could have lost in the first two rounds here.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

On Sunday he takes on Marin Cilic, a 7-5, 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-3 winner over fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev on Saturday night. The 33-year-old old Croat was like a man possessed in Margaret Court Arena, roaring with emotive gestures to his courtside support team after almost every winning point. He’s playing in his 55th Grand Slam event highlighted by a title at the 2014 US Open and runner-up finishes (to Roger Federer) at Wimbledon in 2017 and the Aussie Open in 2018.

Cilic’s record against Auger-Aliassime is 3-0 – the wins coming on grass in the Stuttgart final last June, Paris-Bercy in 2020 and Washington in 2019.

Ranked as high as No. 3 in 2018, he fell to No. 47 last June but is now back up to No. 27 and seeded 27th at Melbourne Park.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Auger-Aliassime’s serving has been sensational and timely through his first three matches. It has been uncanny how often he has lost the first point of a game to go down love-15 only to immediately blast an ace or a service winner to restore parity. If he can maintain that standard against Cilic, it will help neutralize the 6-foot-6 Croat’s main weapon – he hit 24 aces and won 85 per cent of first-serve points in the two-hour and 36-minute conquest of Rublev.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

“My serve is working well, getting more and more consistent,” Auger-Aliassime said in a TSN interview about the key element in his recent success. “The objective for me is to be able to repeat that in matches after matches, tournaments after tournaments on every surface. I think I have the technical abilities, have what it takes to be one of the good servers on the tour so hopefully I can use that to my advantage going forward.”

Sunday’s match-up shapes up as a 50-50 proposition with Cilic rediscovering the power tennis that earned him a top-25 ranking every year (except 2013) between 2008 and 2018, while Auger-Aliassime is playing the best tennis of his career and deserving of his current (No. 9) top-10 ranking.

“I feel great,” he said after dusting Evans. “I feel like I deserve the place I’m in. I’ve worked really hard to get here. I’ve had some great matches but some downs as well. I put in the work this offseason. I’ve had a great start so I feel like I’m in my place – like I deserve to be here and again in the fourth round.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Denis Shapovalov plays third-seeded Alexander Zverev in a fourth-round match that’s third on Margaret Court Arena not before 3 p.m. on Sunday (11 p.m. ET Saturday in Canada).

Seeded No. 14, Shapovalov trails Zverev 4-2 in their head-to-head but has prevailed in two of their last three meetings – winning 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 at the 2019 ATP 1000 in Paris and 6-2, 6-2 at the 2020 ATP Cup in Sydney before Zverev avenged that loss 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(4) at the same event last year.

Shapovalov had to quarantine after landing in Sydney after Christmas following a positive test for COVID-19 and lost his first match to Evans at the ATP Cup, but has since strung together six wins in a row – Struff, Safiullin and Carreno Busta in Sydney and now Djere, Kwon and Opelka at Melbourne Park.

Zverev has won his three rounds in straight sets – over Altmaier, Millman and Albot – but has not faced a player with the firepower of Shapovalov, who has dropped four sets so far playing against tougher opposition.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

He may have been seeded No. 7 to his opponent’s No. 31, but Matteo Berrettini, was the underdog with bookmakers before his match with 18-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz on Friday. But the 25-year-old Italian came through with a 6-2, 7-6(3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 [10-5] victory in four hours and 10 minutes in Rod Laver Arena – a highlight of the 2022 Aussie Open so far.

Feature Photo: Martin Sidorjak