By the time Félix Auger-Aliassime spoke to the media via Zoom, nearly 2 1/2 hours had passed since he let a long, physically demanding match against American Tennys Sandgren get away Monday in the US Open bubble.
Sandgren, whose luck in third-set tiebreaks is infernally bad, managed to turn one in his favour, somehow. The 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (5) victory that puts him into the third round.
Auger-Aliassime had mustered up an admirable level of serenity about it a few hours later even though he was out of the tournament, and missed an opportunity to face world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
He made 58 unforced errors in all, including 15 double faults, and … 32 forehand errors. Balancing that was just 18 winners, although the Canadian did go 12-for-14 at the net.
“For sure, today was tough – to say the least. Obviously starting from my serve, but going into other things that weren’t going well in my game,” he said. “The good thing is that I started doing better things in the third set. I gave myself a chance. I was serving for the match, I was two points from winning.
“Even with all the difficulties I was facing I was still able to create an opportunity to win. But I just have to accept the fact that today was just really a bad day for me in terms of my level,” he added.
Out of doubles with a hamstring issue
In the interim, Auger-Aliassime pulled out of the doubles with countryman Milos Raonic. And he was in treatment room for quite awhile.
“My left hamstring was pulling a bit, I had a bit of pain. So I did treatments, went to see the physio and the doctor. I had a bit of cramping in that area during the match, in the third set. Maybe that added some tension,” said Auger-Aliassime, who said it was muscular – there was no pull, or tear.
“It was hard to imagine going back on the court and playing good quality doubles. I might have played, but not at the level I need to play,” he said. “I talked to Milos; there was no pressure about playing it, so I preferred to take a pass. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow morning, how much I can train until the US Open.”
Match on his racquet
Auger-Aliassime had the match on his racquet in the third set – twice.
But it wasn’t the first time in the match he struggled. The Canadian saved four break points on the way to a 5-2 lead in the first set – only to be broken serving for the set. So he needed a tiebreak to put it in his pocket.
On an extremely hot and humid day, it was an extra 32 minutes on court he’d gladly have saved himself.
But in the end, it still looked as though the 20-year-old would pull it out. He served for the match at 5-4 in the third set, having put in a fairly clean performance on serve in the decider after some double-fault troubles in the first two sets.
But when came time, Auger-Aliassime double-faulted to open the game. He gave Sandgren two gifts on unforced errors on his “plus-one” shot. And then made a backhand error after an extended rally. He was broken at love.
After holding to force the third-set tiebreak, Auger-Aliassime began it with a mini-break on Sandgren’s serve. By then, the combined unforced error total for the two players was passing the century mark. And yet Auger-Aliassime had it on his racquet – again – at 5-4 and serving in the tiebreak.
The pause before the second serve seemed eternal. The level of deliberation, real. And it resulted in double fault No. 15. Auger-Aliassime lost both points on his serve. And that was basically it.
“A bump in the road”
“We’ve had discussions about the second serve. It’s actually been good this year. You think back to the start of the year, I was serving really well. Overall, first and second serve. I had good training, was able to work well on my serve in general,” he said.
“Today it was a bit windy, and I got a bit tired physically. It was hot. But I think it’s just a bump in the road.”
Auger-Aliassime has plenty of goals for the 2020 season – or what’s left of it. But the overarching one is to not repeat the scenario that now will leave him spending an entire week in the US Open bubble, with no matches to play until the US Open begins.
“Today I was just nervous and tense overall. So that’s something I want to change. One of my goals for the end of the season is to not reproduce the mindset I had today – being a bit too tense, and too results-focused,” he said.
Sandgren breaks the duck
Most people remember when Sandgren had the match in his hands against Roger Federer in Australia back in January.
Up two sets to one, he had it in the bag – until he lost the fourth-set tiebreak 10-8, and then the fifth set. Seven match points came and went. It was like rubbernecking at a traffic accident on the highway.
But Sandgren’s late bad luck isn’t just a feeling – it’s a trend. A trend he reversed with the win over Auger-Aliassime.
Look at these:
“There’s a lot of times tennis seems like it’s in the hands of the fates, that it’s not really in your own hands. You try to just put yourself in a good position, try to be positive. Today was tough – we were both struggling a little bit – but you try to be positive and hope that it works out for you,” Sandgren said.
“I think we both didn’t really play our best tennis, both trying to work off our “B” and “C” games and try to get through it,” he added. “He’s obviously a fantastic young player; he’s really good, and going to get better. It’ll be fun to follow him.”