There were snapshots in Monday’s matches at the BNP Paribas Open when the Canadian players had good things going on – but in the end only Félix Auger-Aliassime made it through to the round of 16 with his 7-5, 6-4 win over Francisco Cerundolo.
Bianca Andreescu went on an exhilarating run of her greatest hits – drives, loopers, lobs, slices, angles etc. – in the second set and could easily have stretched her contest with Iga Świątek to a decider before the world No. 1 was able to close out 6-3, 7-6(1).
And Leylah Annie Fernandez got a solid grip on her match after the opening set against Caroline Garcia, winning the second set but not being able to carry momentum into the third and succumbing 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-1 to the No. 5-seeded Frenchwoman.
After needing 15 chances before finally breaking Pedro Martinez in the first set of his opening match on Saturday, Auger-Aliassime’s drama in his Monday match came at the end. He needed six match points to finish off the No. 27-ranked Cerundolo, finally winning when the Argentine misfired wide from the baseline on the last match point. Auger-Aliassime had failed to serve out at 5-2 after having two match points and once Cerundolo was back to 3-5, he re-energized and held serve to 4-5. It then took Auger-Aliassime a five-deuce game and four more match points before putting away the game Argentine.
“I thought it was a good match,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I’m happy with what I did on the court today. I didn’t serve that well but, in spite of everything, I have to give him credit. Compared to the match in Australia (Auger-Aliassime beat Cerundolo 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the third round at the AO), I thought he played better. He was able to hang in the rallies and it wasn’t easy to win points.
“It was a close first set and I was able to play well when I had to at the end. In the second set everything went well to 5-2 and I was playing better. I think he was a little discouraged and it’s too bad I missed the chance to end the match at 5-2. Sometimes there’s a little tension trying to finish a match but I’m still happy to win.”
Auger-Aliassime had a mishap in third game of the match when he was returning serve and followed through on a forehand and cut himself on the chin with his racquet. He needed to take a break to have the wound treated and to change his shirt because it had blood on it. He had actually completed another point before his coach Fred Fontang informed him he was bleeding and needed to have something done.
“There was a little bit more blood than I thought and you can’t have blood on court because the people who are there – the ballkids, the umpire…,” Auger-Aliassime said during his media conference. “It took a little longer than I thought but the ATP physio was good. They put on a little glue on that I still have on. I guess it’s a way to have stitches without having to have stitches. It’s a little deeper than I thought but it doesn’t hurt.
“It’s the first time I’ve done that to myself and I’m not quite sure how it happened.”
Next up for Auger-Aliassime will be an attempt to reach his sixth Masters 1000 quarter-final in a row when he plays No. 19-ranked Tommy Paul. It’s their first meeting as professionals but they did play in the second round of the 2015 US Open junior event when Auger-Aliassime was 15 and Paul 18 – with Paul winning 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
“That was my first junior Grand Slam,” Auger-Aliassime recalled. “He’s always been among the best young Americans. For a while now I’ve seen him and how he’s practicing, and preparing for matches, being even more professional than he used to be. He’s really become dedicated to being a better player. He’s always been a very good athlete. He moves well and you could see against [Novak] Djokovic [in the Australian Open semi-finals] that, even though Djokovic won, he could stay with him in the rallies. [Tuesday] it’s going to be a difficult match physically. If I can move forward and finish well at the net, that’s something I can do a little better. I’ll try to do that but it won’t be easy.”
Listen: Leylah Annie Fernandez on Match Point Canada
There was an amusing moment during his media conference when a journalist told him about a fan from Québec City during that junior match against Paul. The guy kept encouraging him repeatedly saying “pas de cadeaux” (no gifts or easy mistakes). Auger-Aliassime didn’t remember hearing that but smiled and said “okay tomorrow [against Paul] ‘pas de cadeaux.’”
That match featuring Auger-Aliassime, the No. 8 seed, and Paul, No. 17, will be second on Stadium 2 after Tuesday evening’s first match at 6 p.m. (9 p.m. ET in Canada).
Andreescu was back in Stadium 1 at the BNP Paribas Open on Monday evening, the scene of her big breakthrough victory in 2019 when, ranked No. 60, she upset world No. 8 Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the final.
“The crowd showed some love today, which I was super happy about,” Andreescu said. “I love the court, I love the speed of the court, I love the balls. Everything is just perfect – a night match, prime time. That atmosphere was just great. I love seeing my Canadians, my Romanians. It’s always a good time.”
When she reconnected with her whirling dervish of old self in the second set, the crowd’s decibel level rose dramatically and she rode the wave of support to a 4-2, 40-15 lead. Then at deuce, when it appeared she had the point won with a deep drive to the Świątek backhand, the Pole lofted desperation a cross-court shot that looked to be floating out but landed barely in. A point later Świątek had broken back to win the game and put a dent in Andreescu’s spell of sublime tennis.
About that point with Świątek’s shot sailing over her and landing good at that key juncture in the second set, Andreescu just rocked her head back, smiled and said, “aw, don’t remind me”. She added, “this match was literally a point here, a point there. I just have to build on this, because it definitely gives me confidence.”
About Andreescu’s tennis, Świątek said, “the thing that she’s doing differently than other players is the way she changes the rhythm with those pretty annoying high balls (smiling). That’s the hardest thing. And also it seems like you can be aggressive playing against her, but on the other hand, she’s really good at defence – and she’s playing the slices that are tricky sometimes.”
The match came to a somewhat anticlimactic end when Swiatek took a 4-0 lead in the second-set tiebreak and then conceded only one more point.
“Complete domination,” was how Andreescu bluntly described the tiebreak, able to see a humorous side to how well her opponent played. “I didn’t play much worse or much better than I had the whole match. She [Świątek] just pounced on every ball. I do have to say that she was lucky to be on the side that she was during the tiebreaker. She had the wind coming towards me, so she obviously had more power on her shots. It’s not easy playing in the wind but you’ve got to deal with it. I definitely liked playing on that side more than the side I was on during the tiebreak.”
There was an energy and verve about Andreescu on Monday in Stadium 1 that has not always been obvious in her tennis of late. That augurs well for the upcoming events, including the Miami Open next week where she will again be seeded.
“I was actually pretty confident going in,” she said about her approach to the match-up with Świątek. “I know I’m training well, I’m preparing well – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, all of that. So I knew that my game was definitely going to level up to hers. (Smiles) I didn’t know she was going to play that well. But that’s what you have to expect from the world No. 1.”
The first set of Fernandez – Garcia got away from Fernandez quickly when the 29-year-old Frenchwoman broke in the third game and wrapped things up in 34 minutes without facing a break point.
In the second set, Fernandez survived a break point at 4-all and then stepped up in the subsequent tiebreak, getting the key mini-break to 4-3 with a perfectly-struck service return winner. The latter stages of the set had showcased some spectacular, forehand angled passing shots by Fernandez.
In the third set, Garcia got the crucial first break with a big forehand return winner to lead 3-1, and then applied a coup de grace with a second break to 5-1.
After the match, comparing Monday’s 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-1 victory to her 7-6(5), 7-5 second-round win at the Australian Open in January over Fernandez, Garcia said, “it was different. I was so nervous in Australia so it was tough for me to play properly. I thought it was better tennis today from both of us – more controlled, more of a real contest. The surface was different. In Australia it was really fast and that really helped me. Here it bounces higher and it’s easier to defend. That cost me a bit in the second set when she came up with some super passing shots.”
It looks like Fernandez will drop out of the top-50 as a result of her loss – something that seems unjust with how well she has played this year. That has not always been evident because of the calibre of opponents she has faced. In her last five tournaments she has lost to No. 5 (Garcia), No. 46 (Shelby Rogers), No. 19 (Karolina Pliskova), No. 1 (Świątek) and No. 5 (Garcia). Of players capable of overcoming a string of those kinds of setbacks, the Leylah Annie Fernandez fighting spirit would put her near the top of the list.
It was a double-disappointment day on Monday as she and American partner Taylor Townsend were beaten 7-5, 3-6, [10-7] by the top-seeded Czech duo of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in a second-round doubles match.