From the Qs to the QFs for FAA (video)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The quarterfinals of a Masters 1000 event still seemed like a big leap just a few weeks ago in Indian Wells.

But it is now a reality for Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Six victories, including two in the qualifying, and the 18-year-old Canadian is into the final eight at the Miami Open.

And there might be two Canadian teens into the quarters.

No. 20 seed Denis Shapovalov is to play No.  8 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in a night match.

Auger-Aliassime defeated an erratic Nikoloz Basilashvili, 7-6 (4), 6-4 to advance to a meeting with No. 11 seed  Borna Coric on Wednesday.

“With my confidence rising, it’s allowed me to play well on the important points, to tighten up my game when required. Those are lessons that have served me well over the last few weeks. They come with confidence, with matches,” Auger-Aliassime said. But again, a bit like the match against Hubert (Hurkacz) , it sort of going his way in the first set, but I found a way through it, and it went my way in the second.”

Here are some shots of the gamut of emotions the young Canadian went through in posting this milestone win.

First-set firepower fades vs. FAA

Basilashvili, the No. 17, began the match on fire. There were groundstrokes he was hitting so hard, Auger-Aliassime actually bounced a couple of them off the court close to him as he attempted to return them.

FAA
There was a LOT going on, on the Grandstand Tuesday: ringing phones, crying babies, sudden crashing noises, the sun on one end – and a lot of emotion from FAA. But the tennis was pretty serene. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The Canadian was getting through his service games. But at 5-5, he shanked two balls in a row from 30-all to get broken. Then, it was Basilashvili who flinched when he served for the set.

In the tiebreak, after an early mini-break, Auger-Aliassime dropped a couple of double faults. And then Basilashvili responded at 4-5 with one of his own.

First set to the Canadian, who opened the second set with a break of serve as Basilashvili double-faulted twice more.

Basilashvili had eight double faults for the match. But it felt like more, because they came a couple at a time, and at key times.

At this point, the 27-year-old from Georgia wasn’t serving as hard, trying to get his first delivery in. His groundstrokes didn’t have nearly the same sting as they had at the start of the match.

Meanwhile – and in stark contrast to his rather stoic opponent – Auger-Aliassime was uncharacteristically demonstrative and emotional by his recent standards.

He had been a kid who constantly looked over at his coaches during the juniors and during the first blush of his pro career. But recently, he had largely cut down on that. And it’s probably no coincidence that with that greater sense of ownership of his own game, have come some breakthrough results.

Tuesday against Basilashvili, though, he looked over a lot. He talked, a lot. It made for some great reaction shots. But only in that period early in the second set during which he went up 3-1 did he appear serene.

The tennis, though, was serene almost throughout.

Here’s some of what he said after the match.

FAA and the “Youngest Ever” numbers

Auger-Aliassime is the youngest player to make the Miami Open quarterfinals since Andy Roddick in 2001. (We’ll note, just to make the still-young Roddick feel a little creaky, that Auger-Aliassime wasn’t quite eight months old at the time).

If he can defeat Coric and make the semifinals, he would be the third-youngest player to accomplish that at a Masters 1000 event. 

FAAWho was younger? His friend Shapovalov, when he did it at the Rogers Cup in Montreal in 2017.

The other was Michael Chang, who made the semifinals – also at the Rogers Cup – in Toronto in 1990 (the first year of the Masters formats). Chang ended up winning the tournament.

As it was, this was the first time there was more than one teenager into the fourth round in Miami since 2007.

Three teens made it that year. You might remember them: Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

It remains to be seen whether this dynamic Canadian teen duo have those kinds of careers ahead of them. So much still to be determined. But this tournament feels like a huge step on that journey, somehow.

The victory moves Auger-Aliassime up to No. 41 in the live rankings, pending all the results from this week. Another win could jump him as much as 10 more spots. 

The match against Coric will be the late evening match Wednesday, not before 9 p.m.

Tennis Birthdays – Feb. 23, 2019

Lucas Pouille (FRA), 25

If there was ever going to be a man in the hot seat in tennis, it was the Frenchman who had to carry the torch as the careers of arguably the greatest crop of talent his country has produced inevitably waned.

And that is the lot of Lucas Pouille. At the moment, he is carrying it alone.

It’s exceedingly rare that a country can produce a cluster of top-10 players in the same generation.

The U.S. had Sampras, Courier and Chang. Canada may – some day – have Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime. 

Switzerland has had Federer and Wawrinka. Belgium had Clijsters and Justine Henin. Serbia had Ivanovic and Jankovic.

But the French had Richard Gasquet, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils and Gilles Simon – all as different from one another as can be, all reaching the top 10.

They haven’t (and likely won’t) pull through on a major title. But you can argue that having such a pool of talent, so visible every week, will do as much for the growth of tennis in your country as one great one.

Feb. 23Into that fray came … Pouille. No pressure, kid.

Just under a year ago, the then 23-year-old hit the top 10 for a brief moment, a few weeks after reaching the final in Dubai (without having to beat a top-20 player, it should be said).

The expectations are heavy. And the soft-spoken fellow is still learning to deal with them.

Other than in Davis Cup, Pouille defeated just one top-50 player the rest of the way (Philipp Kohlschreiber, No. 34). He lost to Denis (Kudla) and Dennis (Novak) and Yuki Bhambri. And he quickly fell out of the top 30.

In the offseason, he made a move that’s still considered radical in tennis: he hired a female coach. And so Amélie Mauresmo came on board.

Feb. 23

There was an immediate bump: Pouille reached the Australian Open semifinals on the wave of an extremely friendly draw, before getting schooled by Novak Djokovic. But the tennis he displayed was a level up: bolder, more forward thinking.

He has only played one match since then, as he’s been struggling with a virus. And he opted not to defend his finalist’s points in Dubai, where he resides, but in Acapulco. And he withdrew from that event as well.

Currently ranked No. 22, he’ll drop about seven spots. But with basically nothing to defend at the two events at Indian Wells and Miami, with 2,000 points up for grabs, he can quickly make that up if he shows up healthy, rested and fit.

Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO), 27

Currently at a career-high No. 20, the player from Georgia (the country, not the state) came on quietly in 2018 at a relatively mature age.

He played great tennis at the right times, winning his first two career titles at 500-level events.

Basilashvili went from the qualifying to the title in Hamburg. And then in the fall he won Beijing, traditionally a high-quality tournament. He dropped just one set that week, beating Juan Martin del Potro in the final. All of that without cracking much of a smile.

Feb. 23

The Georgian also won matches on the grass (although not at Wimbledon), and reached the fourth round of the US Open before falling to Rafael Nadal. So in his 12th year as a pro, he showed he can win regardless of where he’s playing.

Seeded at both Doha and the Australian Open, Basilashvili lost to Djokovic in Doha and Stefanos Tsitsipas in Melbourne. He will save energy this year by not having to qualify for the big tournaments. But he also will have to prove himself all over again. Losing early in Sofia (to No. 180 Daniel Brands in a match he appeared to be at less than 100 per cent) and to Marton Fucsovics in Rotterdam isn’t a great start.

No picnic in Dubai, where he drew Karen Khachanov in the first round.

Helena Sukova (CZE), 54

Sukova had a long, productive career that landed her in the International Tennis Hall of Fame a year ago.

Feb. 23She played Wimbledon 18 times, the Australian Open 16 times. And she was one of the rare six-footers out there at the time, along with Pam Shriver.

Sukova won 10 singles titles and 68 doubles titles in all playing with numerous partners, starting with another tall one, Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of Germany.

At the end, it was Martina Hingis. She won Wimbledon with Hingis in 1996.

She also won five mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, three with her brother Cyril, two with Aussie Todd Woodbridge.

Sukova won the Canadian Open in 1986, and reached a high of No. 4 in singles and No. 1 in doubles (in 1990). She actually has a web site.

There are some great classic photos on it, including shots of she and doubles-playing brother Cyril when they were just little ones.

Of late, Sukova has worked some with countrywoman Katerina Siniakova. She has a doctorate in philosophy and works as a psychologist in Prague.

Jaslyn Hewitt (AUS), 36

jaslynhewitt Tennis birthdays Feb. 23, 2010Best known to those outside the Hewitt family as the younger sister of Lleyton (who has a birthday tomorrow), Jaslyn was a pretty good junior who played on Tour for awhile, without any great success.

She got to No. 304 in the world back in 2005.

After she hung up the racquet, she got into bodybuilding for awhile. But it seems it was just a phase.

She’s currently with Tennis Australia, trying to mold the next generation of Aussie stars. Her official title is National Academy and Talent Development Manager for the New South Wales region.

Among other things. She posts her resumé like so: Mother, wife, tennis coach, manager, well-being ambassador, presenter, commentator, personal trainer and remedial massage therapist.

Feb. 23
Back in 2004, Jaslyn Hewitt had to watch beloved brother Lleyton take on her boyfriend, former top-10 Swede Joachim Johansson, at the US Open.

Hewitt also got some attention back in the day when she dated former Swedish tennis hottie Joachim Johansson – which was fun when he played against her brother in the US Open semifinals in 2004 (big bro won in straight sets).

Even though the pro career didn’t really happen (after having been a top-50 junior), she remained fodder.  This Aussie tabloid story chronicles her marriage to some Aussie actor/stand-up comedian dude her parents disapproved of so highly, they didn’t even show for the wedding. But they’re still going strong.

Hewitt-Shehadie and her brother even reunited on court at the Kooyong Classic this year, along with the Tomics and other brother-sister pairs.

Just another cautionary tale about what happens to the other siblings in a family when the parents are a little obsessed with the more successful one. But things seem to have turned out well in the end.

Here’s a podcast wth her where she talks about a rather eventful life in the spotlight.

Dally Randriantefy (MAD), 42

lina1 Tennis birthdays Feb. 23, 2010One of the very, very few players from Madagascar, Randriantefy got to No. 44 in singles in 2005, at a fairly advanced age for a career best.

She never won a WTA Tour event, but won seven singles and three doubles titles on the minor-league ITF circuit.

Randriantefy also competed in the Olympics in 1992, 1996 and 2004.

Her last match was a three-set loss to Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekhistan at the 2006 Australian Open.

Eddie Dibbs (USA), 68

Feb. 23
(Wikipedia)

“Fast Eddie” Dibbs reached No. 5 in the world in 1978, and won 22 singles titles, remarkable when you think of the players in that era (Borg, McEnroe, Connors, et al).

Especially a guy from Brooklyn who officially stood 5-foot-7.

He looks to have picked up the leftovers, winning a lot of smaller events, although he did triumph in Toronto in 1978. 

Dibbs won at least one title a year from 1973 to 1981. He was a classic grinding dirtballer who reached the semi-finals of the French Open in 1975 and 1976.