MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The dissection of the Miami Open men’s singles draw by the Canadian twin terrors continued Thursday night.
Your move, Denis Shapovalov.
(No pressure, kid. )
Félix Auger-Aliassime, all of 18 and out of the qualifying, knocked off another seeded player in No. 11 Borna Coric, to become the youngest semifinalist in Miami Open history.
The 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory was a tight tussle in the first set.
And in the second, the far more experienced Coric (still just 22, doesn’t it feel as though he’s been around a decade?) just … capitulated.
He began spraying errors everywhere after the Canadian broke him to open the set.
And the Croat never remotely looked as though he might offer resistance. Given the fact that he had an inexperienced 18-year-old across the net, and a Masters 1000 semifinal at stake, it was a little shocking.
But a lot of that had to do with Auger-Aliassime, who had an answer for every Coric question.
“I was a bit surprised. The points went quickly. He was missing early, which is not his habit. Normally, you’re used to seeing rallies more like we saw in the first set,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I don’t know, he looked a little out of rhythm. So yes, I was a bit surprised that I won the second set so easily. But then, the way I was serving, the way I was putting pressure on him, it made sense, too.”
Big game at 4-5
Auger-Aliassime had all the chances in the first set, at 4-5, to break Coric and start serving the second.
Seven deuces from a 40-15 Coric lead, and one set point, went by before the Croat held after 11 minutes, 31 seconds.
It took Auger-Aliassime more than 22 minutes to get his second set point in the tiebreak. And that one, he converted.
“It was a bit frustrating to lose that 5-4 game. But the best chance for me to win the first set, to give myself a chance, was to find ways when my back was to the wall to win the important points. That’s what I tried to do, and once again it worked,” he said. “There are nerves, there is stress. But it’s about how you manage it. For me, it’s about concentrating on the game, on the strategy – and to serve well.”
Second set a rout
At one point, early in the second set, Coric had one winner and … 12 unforced errors. He didn’t get on the board until he was down two breaks at 0-4.
He wasn’t just missing by inches, although he did barely miss a couple of passing shots. He was missing by feet. He would try a serve-and-volley without much conviction. By the end, some in the notoriously tough Miami crowd were whistling.
At times, he looks sheepish, as if it couldn’t end soon enough. Auger-Aliassime’s confidence – with the first set already in the bag – only grew. So he did what he needed to do end Coric’s suffering as quickly as he could.
“It’s rarely happened that I’ve won so many matches in a row – especially at this level. But I don’t think I was playing above my level. I think I was playing very good tennis, but I don’t think I was playing above myself at any moment in the match,” he said.
Positive vibes to Shapovalov
Auger-Aliassime’s good friend Shapovalov will try to join him in the final four when he plays another young up-and-comer, No. 28 seed Frances Tiafoe, Friday afternoon.
“I’ll probably run into him (Thursday). Already, seeing me win today, that’ll motivate him as well to go further and win the match,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I hope I can motivate him in some way. But beyond that, it’ll be up to him to get the job done on the court.”
Auger-Aliassime’s parents, Marie Auger and Sam Aliassime, will fly down for Friday’s semifinal against big-serving American John Isner.
“I don’t quite realize it, but I’m trying not to get too emotional about it because there are still matches to play,” he said of his effort this week.
Having his parents on hand will be less intimidating than having NBA legend Chris Bosh in the house.”It’s pretty special to play in front of people like that. I was a little nervous at the beginning,” Auger-Aliassime said.
Zooming up the rankings chart
The 18-year-old began the season ranked No. 108. After reaching the final at the ATP 500 event in Rio last month, he zoomed up to No. 60.
He’s currently at No. 57. But with his efforts the last 10 days in Miami, he’ll be at No. 33 when the new rankings come out on Monday, even if he goes no further.
In that theoretical race for one of the 32 seeded spots at the next Grand Slam, which will be the French Open in late May, Auger-Aliassime is one point out of the No. 32 spot.
As it happens, that No. 32 is Serbia’s Laslo Djere, who defeated him in the Rio final and again in the quarterfinals in Sao Paulo a few days later.
A perfect 5-0 vs. the top 20
As if he were ready for his closeup years ago, the Canadian kid has seized every opportunity against the top players so far in his young career.
Auger-Aliassime defeated No. 18 Lucas Pouille at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer. In Rio, he upset No. 16 Fabio Fognini of Italy in the first round.
At Indian Wells, he rolled over No. 10 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round.
And this week in Miami, he already has victories over No. 19 Nikoloz Basilashvili in the fourth round, and Coric (currently No. 13) in the quarterfinals.
That’s 5-0 against top-20 players.
Isner, at No. 9, will be the highest-ranked player Auger-Aliassime has ever faced. And he will be only the second “big server”, after Ivo Karlovic defeated him 6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the ATP event in Pune, India to open the season.