Rogers Cup pics: Friday, Aug. 3, 2018

TORONTO – Some of the players were preparing for the qualifying. But most of the players practicing in the late afternoon on Friday were still a few days away from their first-round matches in the main draw.

Diego Schwartzman (The No. 11 seed, who plays unseeded Kyle Edmund) and David Ferrer (who plays a qualifier or special exempt) took the court together.

Dominic Thiem (Bye, then Tsitsipas or Dzumhur) was on the stadium court. While Pierre-Hugues Herbert (the No. 7 seed in the qualifying, vs. Hubert Hurkacz) practiced with doubles partner Nicolas Mahut (No. 12 Tim Smyczek).

Félix Auger-Aliassime had a hit with Grigor Dimitrov, then stayed behind to hit some more serves.

Also on court was Marco Cecchinato, who will face Frances Tiafoe in the first round of the main draw.

Vasek Pospisil practiced with coach Rainer Schuettler. The Canadian wild card drew Borna Coric in the first round. Not an easy task under any circumstances. But Coric has already been here so long, he practically has stock in the place.

Here are a few pics.

Félix Auger-Aliassime comes home (video)

MONTREAL – After spending all but 10 days over the last four months in Europe on the red clay, 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime is finally home.

But it’s only a pit stop, to sleep in his own bed for a few days – maybe have Mom do some laundry.

Because on Thursday, the Quebecer leaves for Toronto. He will make his Rogers Cup main-draw debut next week, with the expected wild card confirmed Tuesday.

Auger-Aliassime was denied that opportunity at home a year ago, which would have been bucket-list moment, because of a wrist injury.

So the vibe isn’t quite the same. 

Auger-Aliassime and Rublev put on a show

But it’s still in Canada, still a huge tournament – and he’ll still have plenty of support from the home fans.

Here’s what Auger-Aliassime said during the English portion of a press availability Tuesday at Stade IGA in Montreal.

The venue is hearing up to host the women’s event next week.

ATP Rankings Report – July 23, 2018

Unlike the women, there were three top-20 players in action last week.

And there will be seven this week both on the clay in Europe and the hard courts of Atlanta, where the US Open Series gets under way on the ATP side.

John Isner’s decision to skip Newport after his long run at Wimbledon cost him a spot, as he dropped down to No. 9 and allowed Dominic Thiem to slip past him. Last year, the American won Newport – and Atlanta, where he returns this week.

The players ranked between No. 12 and No. 20, with less than 700 points separating them top to bottom, are going to be jostling for position to get among the top 16 seeds for the US Open over the next couple of weeks. 

And players like Steve Johnson, Gaël Monfils and Karen Khachanov are going to push it to try to squeeze into the top 32 and get a seed at Flushing Meadow.

So there will be plenty at stake over the next few weeks.

ON THE UPSWING

rankingsMarco Cecchinato (ITA): No. 27 ————–> No. 22 (The 25-year-old who made all that noise at Roland Garros won Umag, and jumped to a new career high).

Steve Johnson (USA): No. 48 ————–> No. 34 (A great effort by the American on the Newport grass puts him in line for a US Open seed).

Gilles Simon (FRA): No. 42 ————–> No. 39

Guido Pella (ARG): No. 72 ————–> No. 57 (Finalist in Umag).

Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 98 ————–> No. 91 (A nice win over Mischa Zverev, but he didn’t follow it up in the next round. Still a long way from where he should be).

Tim Smyczek (USA): No. 123 ————–> No. 102 (A great effort in Newport, but a week too late for direct US Open entry. A wild card wouldn’t be a shock, though).

Marcel Granollers (ESP): No. 124 ————–> No. 104 (Granollers, who reached the top 20 six years ago this week, had disappeared from the singles scene, but looks to be working his way back).

rankingsRamkumar Ramanathan (IND): No. 161 ————–> No. 115 (The elegant 23-year-old reaches the Newport final, and a new career high).

Jason Jung (TPE): No. 131 ————–> No. 121 (Via Torrance, Calif. Jung reaches a career high with his QF effort in Newport).

Bradley Klahn (USA): No. 143 ————–> No. 122

Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): No. 144 ————–> No. 139 (Another career high for the 17-year-old, who remains in Europe on clay this week, in Gstaad).

Marco Trungelliti (ARG): No. 188 ————–> No. 148 (The infamous Roland Garros road-tripper jumps 40 spots as he goes from the qualies to the semis in Umag).

Daniel Brands (GER): No. 252 ————–> No. 217 (And we thought the man was retired. But after making the Astana Challenger final, he’s on the upswing).

ON THE DOWNSWING

Andrey Rublev (RUS): No. 35 ————–> No. 46 (The 20-year-old didn’t defend his Umag title. But in his first tournament since Monte Carlo because of back problems, his quarter-final effort mitigated the rankings damage).

Matthew Ebden (AUS): No. 43 ————–> No. 55

David Ferrer (ESP): No. 39 ————–> No. 62 (It’s been awhile since Ferrer has dropped this low, since May 2004, in fact)

rankingsAlexandr Dolgopolov (UKR): No. 63 ————–> No. 78 (Dolgopolov has been a ghost on Tour in recent months, and his ranking is beginning to reflect it. He has played just two matches since he last won one, at the Australian Open. And none since he lost in the first round of Rome to Novak Djokovic).

Matteo Berrettini (ITA): No. 75 ————–> No. 84 (Berrettini is finding himself in that netherworld, in the transition from the Challenger level to the ATP level. He won a Challenger this week a year ago, when he was ranked No. 229).

Paolo Lorenzi (ITA): No. 88 ————–> No. 109 (After a late-career surge into the top 40, Lorenzi, at 36, has dropped out of the top 100).

Ruben Bemelmans (BEL): No. 113 ————–> No. 133

Peter Polansky (CAN): No. 122 ————–> No. 134 (After being a couple of matches away from the top 100 las month, Polansky finds himself with a lot of Canadian Challenger points to defend).

Frank Dancevic (CAN): No. 296 ————–> No. 328 (Ouch for Frank the Tank, who is trying to make another run but lost the points he earned in Newport last year after losing in the first round of qualifying).

(For the complete ATP Tour rankings picture click here).

Auger-Aliassime and Rublev put on a show

Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime, who (finally) turns 18 in three weeks, may not yet be at the level of the highly-promoted “Next Gen” that includes his friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov.

But after spending the better part of three months grinding it out on the red clay in Europe, he’s gaining ground quickly.

Auger-Aliassime lost a heartbreaker Thursday night at the Croatia Open in Umag to 20-year-old Andrey Rublev of Russia.

Ranked No. 35 to Auger-Aliassime’s No. 144, Rublev – another member of the Next Gen – came out the winner 6-4, 6-7 (4), 6-3 after exactly 2 1/2 hours.

The match featured some dazzling, high-powered groundstroking.

And the Canadian gave as good as he got – until the last five minutes.

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Clay-court tennis is dirty business – especially if an attempted slide turns into a fall.

Rublev has been out three months, since Monte Carlo in mid-April, as he dealt with a back injury.  

He won his first career ATP Tour title a year ago in Umag.

And so it was both a perfect place to return but also a risky place to return, with all those points to defend.

An early loss, and Rublev would have dropped out of the top 50.

Clay tested, Umag approved

AugerAuger-Aliassime, who had received a wild card into that Monte Carlo event, was playing in his 11th tournament since then.

With a brief pit stop at home after the French Open, he piled up eight Challengers, the Estoril ATP event and the French Open qualifying.

The Russian, surprisingly, didn’t look rusty or tentative. And Auger-Aliassime was right there with him.

He was even up a break early in the third set, before Rublev broke him back to tie the match at 3-3. 

But the Canadian was broken at love in the 3-4 game, which included a couple of angry racket tosses. And Rublev (not without difficulty), served it out.

Auger

Rublev was pretty emotional about it. And Auger-Aliassime shook umpire Damian Steiner’s hand before crossing over to the other side of the court to hug Rublev.

The kid turned very 17 after that, punching his fist repeatedly towards the stands, and throwing down his gear once he returned to his chair.

Auger

Auger

(That’s Auger-Aliassime’s mother, Marie, above his right shoulder).

Auger-Aliassime had a full Tennis Canada support crew in Umag, in addition to his mother.

The two coaches he works with, who usually trade off travelling with him, both were on hand: Guillaume Marx, who is the head coach for the national program boys, and Frédéric Fontang, longtime coach of Vasek Pospisil who is now a coach with the Canadian Davis Cup team.

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Frédéric Fontang (left) and Guillaume Marx were both with Auger-Aliassime in Umag.

No grass – and now to hard courts

The teenager’s clay spring and summer meant that he passed on playing any grass-court tennis at all.

And, assuming he takes a well-deserved rest after playing the last six weeks straight, he will be short of hard-court match play with two of the biggest tournaments of his career coming up.

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Auger-Aliassime teamed up with the magician, Mansour Bahrami, in an exhibition set before the start of the Croatian Open. (Croatian Open FB)

Auger-Aliassime missed all of the Canadian Challenger events and his Rogers Cup debut in his hometown of Montreal last summer, because of a wrist injury.

You would expect him to make that debut this year, as the men’s event is held in Toronto. That’s in 2 1/2 weeks.

After that, he will head to the US Open, where he won the junior event in 2016 and reached the second round of qualifying a year ago.

Auger-Aliassime’s ATP Tour ranking, after this clay swing, could stand inside the top 140 although there are five players still alive this week who would jump ahead of him by winning their next match.

There is no one younger than Auger-Aliassime ranked higher. There aren’t even any 18-year-olds ranked higher. Three 19-year-olds (Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur) are in the top 75.

The next 17-year-old in the rankings is Germany’s Rudy Molleker, at No. 275.

Auger-Aliassime may well end up being seeded in the US Open qualifying.

(All illustrations TennisTV screenshots, except the exhibition photo and the feature pic)

Teenager Auger-Aliassime falls in Monte Carlo

It’s a delicate balance, the reining in of a tennis thoroughbred that everyone – including himself – wants to gallop to the top like, yesterday.

Generally, the team around Canadian teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime has done a masterful job of taking these fledgling moments of his promising career one step at a time.

But perhaps a wild card at this week’s Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo might have been a step too far, too quickly.

That, of course, is in retrospect, after the Canadian went down 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-1 to experienced lefty Mischa Zverev in his first-round match on Sunday.

If he pulls it off, and faces No. 7 seed Lucas Pouille in the second round, maybe you can say, “Okay, he was ready.” But coming in, through two Challenger-level clay-court events, the teenager had won just one match, to a player very close to his age. And even that one wasn’t easy.

So he wasn’t exactly on a roll of clay-court confidence as he entered the picturesque environs of the Monte Carlo Country Club.

No rhythm against experienced lefty

You could see Auger-Aliassime learning on the job with every passing moment against Zverev. But in the end, much of the outcome was in the hands of his 30-year-old opponent.

Zverev flinched once. But he didn’t flinch twice.

“Experience is sometimes good, sometimes bad. In the second set I was getting a little too defensive,” Zverev said during an on-court interview after the win. “He was playing really, really well. He has a great future – he’s 12-13 years younger than me, so he has many more years to go.”

Auger-Aliassime
Zverev said after the match that he got too defensive in the second set, waiting for his much-younger opponent to give it to him. The TennisTV stats bear that out.

Overall, calm and cool

The biggest step up Auger-Aliassime has taken in the last year is on the emotional side. His competitive temperament is far more even-keeled now. And when Zverev took his foot off the gas in the second set, he kept his cool and got on a roll.

The young Canadian was having all kinds of trouble holding serve. Three games into the second set, the clock was pushing 25 minutes – and Zverev only needed about two minutes to hold serve in the middle game.

Auger-Aliassime
A roar from Auger-Aliassime after he takes the second-set tiebreak. The third set went quickly, though.

Zverev was up 6-2, 4-2 and had three break points in that seventh game.  Somehow, after more than 14 minutes, Auger-Aliassime managed to hold. And break. And then hold again.

After a flurry of points against serve in the eventual tiebreak, two unforced errors by Zverev gave the kid the set.

Auger-AliassimeThose errors came when the German was trying to pull the trigger too early. And, in retrospect, they set the tone for the decider.

Zverev came back from a bathroom break with his mindset back to what had worked so well in the first set. He stepped into the court a little more again. And Auger-Aliassime began to display his first signs of frustration.

That second set had taken nearly an hour and a half. And the tension surrounding those monumental holds of serve may finally have shown.

Auger-Aliassime was broken at love in the final game, after one final too-hasty backhand went right into the net. And so Zverev went through.  He was helped by 62 unforced errors by his younger opponent – far too many even if, having made 35 of them in the second set, Auger-Aliassime still won the set.

Post-match runner-up interview

The teenager then enjoyed another new experience – an on-court interview after a defeat.

A year ago, he might well have cut a disconsolate figure. But he handled this with impressive grace, helped by the fact that he shares a language with the majority of the Monte Carlo crowd – the majority of which was firmly behind him during the match.

“Thank you to everyone, thank you for living this moment with me – a really nice first,” he said. “I would have hoped to keep it going in the third, but I’ll get back to training, and I’ll come back stronger next year.”  

More matches needed

The downside of the Masters 1000 upgrade for Auger-Aliassime, of course, is that now he must wait more than a week before he can play another match.

Given he only began his season in February, after rehabbing a knee injury suffered during off-season training in Dubai with Roger Federer, he’s a little behind in that area.

Auger-Aliassime

It’s a different scenario than his appearances at Indian Wells and Miami last month. 

There, he maximized. Auger-Aliassime defeated two solid players in qualifying and earned his way into his first ATP Tour main draw – at a Masters 1000, no less. He posted his first top-100 win against countryman Vasek Pospisil, and he showed well against the top Canadian, an inspired Milos Raonic.

Lessons learned

The kid learned his lesson there, cutting it a little close in arriving for the Challenger the week before and losing in the first round.

Auger-AliassimeBut the upside was that Auger-Aliassime was able to practice in the unusual conditions for a week. And when he got to the big event, he was ready.

Auger-Aliassime learned another lesson the following week in Miami, where he went out in brutally hot, humid conditions against American Mackenzie McDonald in the qualifying.

No ballcap, no ice towel on changeovers and in the end, Auger-Aliassime was overcome by the conditions (even though he very nearly won the match).

Sunday in Monte Carlo, another lesson learned as he adjusted to his crafty opponent’s game, and upped his patience level. Still, he had to save 6-of-7 break points in that second set. Had Zverev, who’s had a rough six months, been more confident in closing out matches these days, it might well have gone 6-2, 6-2.

But Auger-Aliassime made Zverev earn it. He gave himself a chance.

More dirt for Auger-Aliassime

Next up for the young Canadian is a return to the Challenger circuit, where he played events in Alicante, Spain and Barletta, Italy (with just one victory) before coming to Monte Carlo.

He is entered in a Challenger in Francavilla, Italy, where he may well be seeded. The week after that, he could play another ATP Tour event.

Auger-Aliassime is a few spots out of making the qualifying in Estoril, Portugal on his own ranking.

And as he learned at Indian Wells, the sweetest opportunities are the ones not given, but earned.

(All screenshots from TennisTV)

After Miami heat, Auger-Aliassime already on the dirt

Félix Auger-Aliassime’s Miami Open debut was definitely a letdown after his great run to make the main draw at Indian Wells.

But the conditions were night and day.

And the 17-year-old Canadian teenager succumbed.

Auger-Aliassime was first up on the Monday morning of qualifying. He faced 22-year-old Mackenzie McDonald, who went to UCLA and is just starting his pro career in earnest.

It was really hot, and very humid, during the two days of qualifying. And Auger-Aliassime, after the cool, dry temps in the desert, really struggled.

Still, Auger-Aliassime had a match point in that third-set tiebreak. But in the end, McDonald pulled it off.

A little heatstroke

As you can see at the end of the video, Auger-Aliassime was in fairly bad shape at the end of the match. But it was even worse afterwards.

Some 45 minutes later, your Tennis.Life correspondent opened the door to a hallway leading to the photographers’ and press conference rooms, on the ground floor of the Miami Open stadium.

And there was poor Auger-Aliassime, lying on the carpet in the narrow hallway, just inside the door, still trying to recover from a marathon match in very tough conditions. He was there a long time, and joked later that he definitely wasn’t at his best.

He didn’t wear a cap, or use the ice towel during the match. You’d have to think he won’t make that same mistake again, although you’d think his coach would have insisted. (Perhaps he did, and the kid went his own way).

So much for Miami. 

Two weeks later, on the tierra

After returning home to rest and reload, the 17-year-old finds himself in Valencia, Spain at the Juan Carlos Ferrero Challenger, already making the transition to the red clay. He plans to play several Challengers in Europe this spring.

There, he met 18-year-old Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the first round.

The temperatures in Valencia this week are far more moderate: around 70F, low humidity.

A year older than Auger-Aliassime, at No. 455 in the ATP Tour rankings, Davidovich Fokina is about at his career best. But he’s ranked about 170 spots below Auger-Aliassime.

The two had met before – twice, in fact, during a one-month period.

Davidovich Fokina defeated the Quebecer 6-4 in the third set in the semifinals of the big junior tournament outside Montreal, the week before the US Open juniors in 2016.

Auger-Aliassime got his revenge in Flushing Meadow, winning 6-4, 7-6 in a pretty dramatic test and eventually winning the title to cap off his junior career.

It was very hot that day, as well. But Auger-Aliassime was wearing a cap.

The Spanish kid wasn’t without his drama …

The outcome in Valencia was somewhat similar. 

Auger-Aliassime won, but it was a tight one – 7-5, 7-5 in more than two hours. It ended on an ill-advised drop shot from Davidovich Fokina, followed by an angry racket smash.

 

Auger-Aliassime will play Guido Andreozzi of Italy in the second round. Andreozzi, a 26-year-old from Argentina ranked No. 167, upset the No. 3 seed Stefano Travaglia of Italy in the first round.

Auger-Aliassime’s desert debut a success

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Félix Auger-Aliassime, the 17-year-old from Quebec who won his first ATP Tour main-draw match this week at Indian Wells, didn’t start his trip with very much promise.

He admitted he cut it a little too close in terms of his arrival to prepare for the ATP Tour Challenger the week before the main event.

And, as everyone who comes to the desert for the first time finds out, the combination of slow, gritty courts and desert air takes quite a bit of adaptation.

As a result, Auger-Aliassime was already into the second set of his first-round match against an alternate, Ricardo Ojeda Lara of Spain, at the Oracle Challenger before he even found his bearings.

The 6-0, 6-4 loss was a disappointment. But as it turned out, Auger-Aliassime would them have a full week to acclimatize.

Here he is talking about various topics – including what it’s like to train with Roger Federer and how his serve and forehand feel when you’re on the other side of the net, during his practice week.

(It’s in French – we’ve subtitled his answers).

Heavy training week pays off

He took full advantage. It seemed as though a regular diet of two-a-day practices was on the regular menu. And Auger-Aliassime hit with – among others – Mirza Basic, Sebastian Korda, Yuki Bhambri, Reilly Opelka (and a few others dispatched to the haze of Tennis.Life’s short-term memory).

The desert air was a different beast. And Auger-Aliassime, at times, had his fingers taped like Rafael Nadal as the blisters appeared because of the dry climate.

But all the practice paid off.

The teenager defeated quality players in Bjorn Fratangelo and Nobert Gombos (in an impressive comeback win that had the large group of Canadians in the crowd going crazy) to make the main draw.

It wasn’t Auger-Aliassime’s first ATP Tour main draw; he received a pair of wild cards in Europe last month. But it was the first time he had earned his way into the qualifying on his own ranking. And it was the biggest tournament he has ever played in.

All-Canadian section

The draw wasn’t kind. Slots No. 89 – 92 in the men’s singles draw featured three Canadians. Auger-Aliassime played Vasek Pospisil. And the winner was to play Milos Raonic.

Auger-Aliassime’s physicality and Pospisil’s below-average affection for the slow Indian Wells courts combined to help the 17-year-old to his first career ATP Tour-level win.

He was rapidly brought back to reality in the second round in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Raonic, the former top-five player whose ranking has fallen due to extended injury absences. But everything seem to unfold as it should.

“Against Milos, I think it proved that he’s back to his best level. He was very solid,” Auger-Aliassime said during a conference call with the media back home Thursday morning. “Beyond that, I look at it a few days later, and I tell myself that maybe I’m not so far from that level.”  

And then, as many eliminated players do, Auger-Aliassime stuck around.

He was automatically withdrawn from this week’s Challenger event back home in Quebec (although it’s hard to imagine he’d have played it anyway, given the week he had). 

And so he stayed on to practice.

Shapo, Air Felix and the Fed

By his last full day on site Tuesday, he had an hour session with his good pal and fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

And then, he headed through the player’s field and onto Practice Court 2, where he had a date with … Roger Federer.

Federer had texted his new training partner, a player he had invited to Dubai last December for two weeks to hit with him during his offseason training block, to warm him up for his match that night.

Who says “no” to the Fed?

Federer was late – about 20 minutes late. The crowd had already been there for an hour and a half, or more, waiting for him.

The 20-minute cool-off in the shade after the earlier hit wasn’t great, but probably not an issue for Auger-Aliassime, who waited patiently. (And, you parents will love this – didn’t even get on his cellphone once while he waited).

A half-hour with Federer, with the crowd loving every minute, was a nice cap on the best week of Auger-Aliassime’s career, in his first of what surely will be many trips to Indian Wells.

The Indian Wells – Miami double

Next up will be a similar tournament in Miami, – but with very different conditions – and another opportunity to try to qualify for a Masters 1000-level event early next week.

“I’m attacking Miami with more confidence than I had at Indian Wells. After each tournament, it’s a bit of a new start,” he said. “I have to put the lid on it. Not quite start back at zero, because I have the confidence I accumulated over the last few days. There will be good players I have to beat to qualify, but I’m confident I can do what I did at Indian Wells.”

Here’s a photo gallery of some of Auger-Aliassime’s moments.

Canadians bloom in California desert

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The California desert has for years been a place where Canadian tennis players bloom in winter.

The sheer number of snow birds ensure big-time support at the BNP Paribas Open no matter the Canadian, no matter the opponent. 

But when 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime faced 27-year-old Vasek Pospisil before a packed Stadium Court 2 Friday night, the crowd was as tense as the two players. It was as though rooting for one meant rooting against the other. 

And of course you know how Canadian are so polite and all.

It was a conflicted group although in the end, they got behind the fresh face, the up-and-coming teenager, who defeated Pospisil 6-2, 7-6 (4) to reach the second round.

Here’s what it looked like.

More “firsts” for Felix

Auger-Aliassime is the first player born in the 2000s (Aug. 8, 2000 to be exact) to win a main-draw match on the ATP Tour. He is the youngest to win one since his good friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov did it against Nick Kyrgios in the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2016.

And he’s the youngest to do it at the BNP Paribas Open in nearly 30 years, since Michael Chang (17 years, one month) did it in 1989.

“This was a bit more unexpected, I think, than the other “firsts” that I’ve known over the last two or three years, I was coming from the qualifying, I didn’t have a lot of expectations for my results. I had some expectations about my attitude, about the way I wanted to play. And I think that was really something that helped tonight. I was able to sort of put the emotions aside, even if  wasn’t easy, and concentrate on my game, and it paid off in end,” Auger-Aliassime said. 

The courts here – generally acknowledged by the players as being among the slowest, if not the slowest, on Tour – suit Auger-Aliassime far more than they do Pospisil, who can do significant damage on faster courts.

“It was always going to be tough, especially here. He’s very physical, and the courts are the slowest of the year for sure. He’s extremely fit. I knew I had to play well to win, and I didn’t do that. But again, credit to him. It was tricky, windy, and he handled it better than me,” Pospisil said.  “I struggled through the qualifying mentally a little bit, physically. I actually felt better (Friday), both physically and mentally, more fresh. But it was just tough, Felix played well, and conditions were tough.”

Pospisil has just jumped into the main draw at the next Masters 1000 in Miami, after a few withdrawals. But first, he’ll head to scenic Drummondville, Que., about an hour from Montreal, to play a $75,000 Challenger there next week.

Canadian colors in the desert

bloom

Auger-Aliassime said it felt like Davis Cup in California when he pulled off a comeback victory in the qualifying against Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos Wednesday to reach the main draw.

But the support was just as fervent when he played an American, Bjorn Fratangelo, in the first qualifying round the previous day.

Polansky gets rock-star treatment

Peter Polansky, who navigates around the fringes of relative obscurity most of the year, was buoyed by a jubilant crowd when he defeated Marius Copil of Romania in a first-round match Thursday.

It was a match Polansky called the “craziest” of his career, a victory that went 14-12 in a third-set tiebreaker and was a gruelling test of both body and nerve.

Polansky has had too many heartbreaking losses to count in similar matches, which seemed to be going his way until the very, very end. This one, he pulled off to reach the second round. He will play No. 20 seed Adrian Mannarino of France Saturday.

Here’s how it looked against Copil.

Polansky had near-uninimous support against Copil. On Friday, with Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil, the crowd was torn.

“The energy was different compared to my final round of qualifying. I heard encouragement for Vasek, and I heard it for me. But it stayed very respectful. I think the people were just happy to see two Canadians perform in such a beautiful stadium, and I think they were happy for me when I won in the end,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I expect them to be there for the next match as well.”

Another battle of Canada next up

The “next” one for Auger-Aliassime is against a player he considers one of his idols, longtime top Canadian male Milos Raonic.

Raonic is not in the best quadrant of his career, after multiple injuries cut short his 2017 season. Those injuries also are having their effect on 2018 in terms of the lack of practice and match play.

Still, even if his movement isn’t back to where it was, Raonic’s serve remains a formidable weapon.

As Auger-Aliassime coach Frédéric Fontang put it, it will come down to the return.

Auger-Aliassime also has the advantage of already having had four matches on the Indian Wells courts – not to mention nearly a full week of intense practice.

Raonic, who squeezed in as the No. 32 seed, had a first-round bye. This will be his first match since he lost in the second round of the Delray Beach event a few weeks ago.

“I think Felix can give him trouble here, honestly. He has a great game for these conditions. He’s very physical. He moves well … It’s very tough to create anything and hit winners, and he can really hang physically,” Pospisil said. “So I think, serving well, he can definitely give Milos some trouble Especially if he does like he did against me – swinging free, is confident and has nothing to lose. Then maybe he has a chance to win.”

Little Félix was in awe

Three summers ago, Auger-Aliassime warmed up Raonic ahead of his match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. He had turned 15 just a few days before. Raonic was about to face big-serving Ivo Karlovic in his first match of the tournament.

The kid was the jinx; Raonic, who had reached the final the previous time the event had been held in Montreal in 2013, lost in two tiebreaks.

Here’s some vintage video of that warmup session.

Auger-Aliassime is a lot taller now – his hair is a lot taller, too. His serve is a lot harder. He has since signed a deal with Nike, so his kits are fancier.

And he’s done enough on the tennis court that he won’t be quite as in awe of Raonic, the former No. 3 and Wimbledon finalist.

Raonic reached the Indian Wells final the last time he played it, in 2016.

“Everything’s possible in sport. You never know. We saw with Denis (Shapovalov) last year at the Rogers Cup,” Auger-Aliassime said.

“It’s unbelievable for me to be able to play Milos in the second round. Just two or three years ago I was warming him up, he was sort of my idol. It was like, ‘Wow, Milos is right there’. Now, to play him in the second round of a Masters 1000 is incredible.

“I’ll let the emotions in a little bit (from Friday’s victory), and then I’ll start preparing for Sunday.”

Looking ahead

Auger-Aliassime also is entered in next week’s Challenger, although if he does manage to defeat Raonic, his entry would automatically be rescinded.

Even if he doesn’t, the teenager may pass on it after all the tennis and emotions of the past week. Coach Fontang said it’s something they would discuss, when the time comes.

As with Pospisil in the main draw, Auger-Aliassime just squeezed into the Miami qualifying in recent days, after a few withdrawals. 

His ranking for that entry list was No. 166. 

Right now, it’s actually lower than that, by nearly 10 spots, despite his efforts in the desert. Auger-Aliassime has 56 points coming off his rankings resumé the next two weeks because a year ago, he won a Futures event in Canada and then reached the semifinals of that Drummondville Challenger.

The difference, of course, is that at the ATP level, he can earn big chunks of points quickly, if he can win matches. It would take a win over Raonic to get him back to where he is this week.

Auger-Aliassime’s ATP debut comes close

In the first set of the first match of the next step in his professional career, 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime looked like he was feeling the nerves.

But it passed. And while the Canadian teenager fell just short of pulling off an upset against world No. 38 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, he could leave the court with his head held high.

Krajinovic, eight years older at 25, pulled off a 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 victory that puts him into the second round of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Auger-Aliassime gained some valuable experience. And he also showed how much his on-court maturity has skyrocketed over the last 12 months. 

As disappointed as he was, he managed a smile for his opponent at the net, something he had trouble doing earlier in his career. And he applauded the fans as he walked off the court.

And above all, he kept his cool when he found himself in a fix.

Aliassime

The Montrealer also showed how much stronger he has become, with first serves regularly landing in the 210 km/hour (130 mph) range.

It was almost, but not quite, enough.

Early nerves led to slow start

“The nerves got to me a little bit in the first set. I started not bad the first two games, but still I felt tight. I felt my ball wasn’t going as it usually does, playing pretty short, not serving so well. The plan was to just hang in there mentally. It was in my control to stay tough mentally, and that’s what I did,” Auger-Aliassime told the media in Rotterdam, as reported on the ATP Tour website.

“That’s why I was so close to winning the match, but he did great. I think he did great on the important points, saving break point. I think he was a little bit tougher than me on those points,” he added.

The crucial seventh game

Auger-Aliassime’s shot came in the seventh game of the third set, with the score tied at 3-3 and Krajinovic always serving first and putting the pressure on.

Auger-Aliassime had love-40 on the Serb’s serve.

He did very little wrong; Krajinovic did everything right, including getting in some strong first serves that, even if they didn’t approach the velocity of his younger opponent’s delivery, were highly effective all the same.

After that, Auger-Aliassime held serve once to stay in the match. But he couldn’t do it a second time and force a decisive tiebreaker; he was broken at 5-6. And that was it.

Auger-Aliassime wasn’t helped by the fact that, in that last game, he broke a string on the 30-all point, losing the point and setting up Krajinovic’s first match point. He saved that one, but the momentum was all with the Serb from there; it felt as though Auger-Aliassime was swimming upstream the rest of the way.

Forehand giveth, and taketh

There were 198 total points in the match. And nearly a third of them (61) were wholly dependant on Auger-Aliassime’s heavy forehand.

5-6, 30-all, third set – and Félix Auger-Aliasime breaks a string. (TennisTV)

He earned 24 winners with it; he also made 37 unforced errors with it.

Auger-Aliassime went 12-for-20 at the net. And had he made even a couple of the tougher volleys he missed, he might be playing again on Thursday.

The kid won’t have to wait long for his second attempt at the ATP Tour level. He has received another wild card next week, into the 250-level event in Marseille, France.

“I think we’ll start from here. I’m just starting my season, second tournament, and it’s exciting. A lot of new things around. I think I’m dealing with them pretty well, but we’ll start from here. It’s really encouraging the level that I played at the end of the match,” he said.

(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Canada Day in Budapest (and Antalya)

The tennis nation of Canada had an excellent day on Sunday.

And the more well-known names – Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov, Denis Bouchard – weren’t even involved.

On the down side, the understaffed Fed Cup team was no match for Romania in Cluj-Napoca over the weekend. Carol Zhao, Bianca Andreescu and Katherine Sebov – all but Andreescu making their singles debuts at the World Group level – won just one set in three matches. 

The Canadians did salvage a point in the dead doubles rubber on Sunday.

But everywhere else on Planet Tennis Canada, there was hardware.

First up on Sunday was Rebecca Marino, who is returning to pro tennis after a five-year absence.

The 27-year-old followed up her victory at a $15,000 ITF Pro Circuit event in Turkey last week with another title on Sunday, in a similar event.

Marino won three qualifying matches in the first title run. So she has now gone 13-0 in her return (including one walkover) and hasn’t lost a set.

Pospisil wins second straight

Later Sunday, Marino’s fellow British Columbia native Vasek Pospisil won his second straight title on the Challenger circuit.

Budapest
Flashback: Vasek Pospisil as a junior 10 years ago, at the 2008 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Pospisil won the Open de Rennes two weeks ago without dropping a set.

In between came the four-set loss to Borna Coric of Croatia in Davis Cup, and some physical woes.

But Pospisil bounced back in Budapest, managing to put together five victories even if he wasn’t feeling 100 per cent.

He won this title after getting through back-to-back-to-back three-set matches in three days in the final rounds.

In the final, he defeated promising teenager Nicola Kuhn 76 (3), 3-6, 6-3.

Kuhn returned to court a little while later, and helped Canada to a third trophy on Sunday.

Budapest
Flashback: Auger-Aliassime at age 14, in Sept. 2014. Not so long ago. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He and fellow 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime upset the No. 1 seeds, Marin and Tomislav Draganja of Croatia, 2-6, 6-2, 11-9 to win the doubles title.

The kids had a roller-coaster ride in the match tiebreak. They were up 6-2 and serving. Suddenly, they were down 7-6, with the Croatian brothers about to serve the next two points.

But they took both those points, and finally converted on their third match point.

Auger-Aliassime was immediately headed to the big tournament in Rotterdam, where he has a wild card and will make his ATP Tour main-draw debut against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

Rising rankings

When the 24 ranking points she has earned over the last two weeks finally hit the computer, Marino’s ranking will have gone from zero – or infinity, depending on how you look at it – to approximately No. 732.

Budapest
Flashback: Rebecca Marino as a junior 10 years ago, at the 2008 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

(A few years ago, before players like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin made comebacks, you needed to have earned points in three tournaments before you could get a WTA Tour ranking. That was amended.

Now, if you earn 10 points in any one tournament, you qualify. But points from $15,000 ITF tournaments take a minimum of one extra week to show up).

Pospisil’s singles ranking of No. 85 might, at best, move him up one spot because of the points he was defending from the San Francisco Challenger a year ago. But on the plus side, he didn’t lose any ground.

Pospisil would have made the Rotterdam qualifying, and given himself a chance to earn more. But his success in Budapest meant he couldn’t get there in time.

Auger-Aliassime’s doubles ranking will vault from No 1092 to inside the top 500. He’s a fine modern-classic doubles player (a junior US Open doubles champion with fellow Canadian Shapovalov when he was just 15). He just hasn’t played much.