For the first match of his career against Novak Djokovic, Félix Auger-Aliassime did not tremble on Friday, on the clay courts of the Rome Masters. But despite a fierce battle, the experience of the world number 1 prevailed against the youth of Quebec.
The Serb won 7-5 and 7-6 (1) in this quarter-final meeting of 2 h 9 min, punctuated by several exciting exchanges and spectacular winners.
The stakes were high on both sides. Djokovic, banned from several tournaments because he was not vaccinated against COVID-19, has played little this season and absolutely needed this victory to maintain his status as the world’s leading racquet.
As for Félix, he had the chance to offer himself a first win against the man with 20 Grand Slam titles, more manageable than usual as evidenced by his early defeat in Monte-Carlo, a few weeks ago.
And he believed in his chances, the 21-year-old player, even on this surface which is not his favorite. Seeded eighth in the tournament, Auger-Aliassime presented aggressive tennis throughout.
Not only did he excel in service – 11 aces and 72% of points won in the first ball – but he also placed a few winning shots which earned him a hand of applause from the “Djoker”.
“FAA” also held up well in the long exchanges, a strong point which had enabled him to accumulate victories at the start of the year, winning the first title of his career, in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands in February.
“I know Félix well, commented Djokovic on the ground, after the meeting. He’s been on the men’s circuit for a few years, except I never had the chance to face him. He has quite a service, I must say. He placed his balls well. »
Thursday, in front of the journalists, the Serb had also been surprised to learn that he had never officially played against Auger-Aliassime.
The two players have sometimes trained together, “but it’s another thing to face him in a match,” he pointed out on Friday.
The polarizing world number 1 also underlined the “complete game” of his opponent and his qualities as a “returner”.
A game at which Djokovic excels himself. Although the Quebecer got the first chance at 2-2, it was the 34-year-old veteran who broke the first Friday, taking advantage of an unforced error in the back of the field of the pride of L’Ancienne-Lorette to take the leads 5-3.
Auger-Aliassime immediately managed to level the score, but the big guys don’t stay at the top that long for nothing. They have that ability to take their game up a notch when it matters.
“Nole” once again proved it in the 12th game, pushing the Quebecer four times to make a mistake to slip away with the first set.
The second round quickly took on the same pace as the first.
Félix again cashed the first break, beaten by an impeccable lob after a long exchange, at 3-2. He in turn got an opportunity to break in the next game. However, it was at 5-3, not without having erased a match point shortly before, that the young racket managed to pick up the score.
But again, Djokovic upped the tempo when it mattered most. He multiplied the attacks in the tiebreaker, quickly offering himself five new match points. He materialized the first, offering himself at the same time his ticket for the four aces.
“I had to raise my level of play,” he said. I could have finished the job earlier, when I had a match point at 5-2. The credit goes to him, he fought to come back from behind. »
After a second round in Monte-Carlo, a final in Belgrade and an aces in Madrid, the first player in the world seems to have regained his splendor as Roland-Garros approaches, which will be his Grand Slam comeback this season. .
He has still not lost a single round in Rome and he will have the chance to win, today against the fifth seed, the Norwegian Casper Ruud, the 1000th victory of his career in singles at the ATP.
As for Félix, he will immediately set sail for Paris, where the first round matches will be played in just over a week.
After the one against the world number 2, the Russian Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open at the beginning of the year, here is another battle that the Quebecer will be able to add in the experience sector.
Bianca Andreescu saw her career come to an end in the quarter-finals in Rome on Friday, ahead of the player of the hour, the Polish Iga Swiatek.
Impressive in Rome where she was only playing a third tournament after a six-month break, the Canadian Bianca Andreescu had the misfortune to cross paths on Friday with the intractable world number 1, Iga Swiatek.
And intractable, the Polish will have been again in this quarter-final match, which she won 7-6 (2) and 6-0 to win a 26th victory in a row.
Swiatek, barely 20 years old, hasn’t lost since… February.
The two players traded serves a few times in the first set, but Swiatek upped her pace in the tiebreaker and never took her foot off the gas again.
She smashed the 21-year-old Ontarian six times in as many occasions in the encounter which lasted 1h 44min
“The first run was tight. I had some ups and downs, but I’m glad I played well in the important moments and was able to respond after getting broken,” Swiatek said after the match.
Currently 90th in the world after his glitches last season and his long break, Andreescu, a native of Mississauga, however, does not have to be embarrassed by his preparation for Roland-Garros.
Before reaching the quarters in Italy, the 2019 United States Open champion had made the round of 16 in Stuttgart and Madrid.
As for Swiatek, she will look to build on her incredible momentum today when she faces Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, seeded third in the event.
The other women’s semi-final will pit the Tunisian Ons Jabeur (9th) against the Russian Daria Kasatkina, 23rd in the world.
Winner of Rafael Nadal on Thursday, a feat on clay even if the Spaniard suffered from foot pain, the Canadian Denis Shapovalov could not repeat such a good performance against the Norwegian Casper Ruud, Friday in the quarter-finals.
‘Shapo’, 13th favorite in Rome, lost 7-6 (7) and 7-5 to the fifth seed of the competition, in 2 h 19 min
The 23-year-old Ontarian nevertheless had his chances in this long meeting. He had set points in both the first and second sets, but was unable to make them.
It is therefore to Ruud that will return the “honor” of facing the Serbian and world number 1 Novak Djokovic in what could be the 1000th victory of his career (see other text).
Djokovic would become the fifth athlete of the modern era to accomplish this feat, along with American Jimmy Connors, Swiss Roger Federer, Czech Ivan Lendl and Nadal.
The second semi-final brings together two players who are beginning to know each other well: the German Alexander Zverev (2) and the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas (4).
It will be the 12th duel between the two rivals and Tsitsipas leads the confrontation with seven wins against four losses.