Canadian young guns aim for quarters in Miami

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – If feels as though the future has arrived a little ahead of schedule.

And yet, somehow, it feels right on time.

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Canadian teenagers Denis Shapovalov (tonight) and Félix Auger-Aliassime (at noon) will try to make the Miami Open quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Shapovalov reached the fourth round a year ago. So it’s not a huge surprise. He made his Miami debut in 2018 straight into the main draw, upset then-No. 14 Sam Querrey in the third round before losing a tight three-setter to Borna Coric of Croatia in the round of 16.

For Auger-Aliassime, making his first appearance, it’s a breakthrough effort.

Auger-Aliassime would have easily made the main draw directly on his current ranking. But his rise in fortunes, which came last month on the South American clay-court swing, came too late for the Miami Open deadline.

Canadian

And given he’s not a player represented by IMG, which owns the tournament and decides on the wild cards, he was out of luck. But as the No. 2 seed, he made it through the qualifying. And he had a good draw

His first seeded opponent, in the second round. was Marton Fucsovics. In the grand scheme, it could have been a lot worse than getting the No. 29 seed. Then, in the third round, Auger-Aliassime faced 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz. 

Hurkacz thoughtfully eliminated Indian Wells champion Dominic Thiem, the No. 3 seed, earlier in the event. And Auger-Aliassime defeated Hurkacz.

Now, he comes up against an interesting player in No. 17 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili. The Georgian is playing his best tennis, a late bloomer at age 27 after a long journey to get there.

 

Shapo v Tsitsipas – a Wimbledon junior rematch

In the last few years of following the junior event closely at Grand Slams, the best match we’ve ever seen – it still stands out, point by point – was the 2016 Wimbledon junior boys’ semifinal between Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Greek breakout star was eight months older. But both were serve-volleying, chip-and-charging – basically, showing off all the skills at a very young age.

Shapovalov pulled it off 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 and went on to defeat Alex de Minaur in the final. A month prior, in the quarterfinals of the French Open juniors, the Canadian had overcome a tired-looking Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2.

The two played twice on the main tour in 2018. Shapovalov won in straight sets in the first round of the Australian Open. Tsitsipas got him back rather routinely, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the Monte Carlo tournament, on clay.

So it’s been nearly a year since they played. And since then, Tsitsipas has both made the top 10 and shown a few signs of being a bit burned out by it all.

He was defeated soundly by Auger-Aliassime just a few weeks ago at Indian Wells.

Tsitsipas and Kenneth Raisma of Estonia defeated Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov in the 2016 Wimbledon boys’ doubles final. Raisma has fallen off the map, having played just two matches this year at entry-level ITF events, and losing both)

Young Canadian rankings outlook

Shapovalov has done his job in Miami, defending his points. He remains tied at his career-high ranking of No. 23.

And there are a number of players still alive in the tournament who stand between him and a spot in the top 20 – a spot that seems a bit overdue. But we’re judging by fairly lofty standards when we write that.

For Auger-Aliassime, the Miami effort so far breaks him into the top 50, at No. 46.

If he beats Basilashvili to make his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal, he’ll be just a few ranking points shy of the top 40.

Either way, he is right on the cusp of leaving the qualifying behind for good.

Auger-Aliassime is already into the 250-level tournament in Marrakech the week of April 8, as he kicks off his clay-court campaign.

He’s just a few spots out of the main draw in Monte Carlo. The Canadian got a wild card there a year ago; given he’s now an official resident of Monaco, you’d have to figure he’d be good for another one if he doesn’t squeeze into the main draw on his own merit.

He’s into the main draw at the 500-level tournament in Barcelona the week after that.

Canadian

The Madrid Masters 1000 deadline of March 18 came a little too early, but he’ll be among the top seeds in qualifying unless they give him a wild card.

As for Rome, he should be in good shape.

Given Auger-Aliassime’s proficiency on clay, you have to think he’ll be looking at trying to get seeded at the French Open.

A year ago, Auger-Aliassime earned … 44 points on the European clay Challenger circuit. He lost in the first round of Monte Carlo to Mischa Zverev after getting a wild card there.

Shapovalov has Monte Carlo and Barcelona on his schedule before the big Masters 1000 events.

 

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