October 23, 2021

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Auger-Aliassime sees off Sandgren in Acapulco

Acapulco

Happy Felix gets through the first round in Acapulco (Photo: Abierto Mexicano Telcel)

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Félix Auger-Aliassime might well have beaten Tennis Sandgren 6-3, 6-2 Monday night in Acapulco.

The opportunities were there.

But the second set got a little complicated. He was broken serving out the match at 5-4. Then five match points came and went in the second-set tiebreak.

Ultimately, the 20-year-old Canadian still pulled through in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6 (8) to advance to the second round.

“It was an unusual second set. I had a break point for 5-2 – I felt like I was dominating the match. But he came up with a few lucky shots, a few risky shots, and things went his way on those points,” Auger-Aliassime told Open Court via Zoom from Acapulco

Acapulco One wobble on serve when Auger-Aliassime served for the match. But overall a good serving day. (Photo: Abierto Mexicano Telcel)

On that break point, seeing Auger-Aliassime far beyond the baseline to return a second serve, Sandgren followed his serve to the net and hit a cheeky little drop volley. It was both risky and a little lucky.

At 5-3, Sandgren pulled out a tough, nervy hold to make the Canadian serve it out.

He couldn’t. Auger-Aliassime double-faulted three times and was broken.

It was a bit of a redux of their crazy match in the US Open bubble last summer, in the tune-up event.

Auger-Aliassime served for that one as well, was broken to love – and ended up losing in a third-set tiebreak.

This time, he didn’t let it get away. Not that the nerves didn’t kick in.

“I had a chance to lead 5-2, or win the match at 5-3. It added a bit of tension – and at 5-4, for sure there were nerves. Everyone could see it,” he said. “Above all, the important thing was to stay as serene and lucid as possible. To try to get match points and find a way to win it in two sets.”

No. 3 on the DF list for 2021

Acapulco
Sandgren was annoyed, on and off, by flashes going off in the crowd. But Auger-Aliassime’s groundies proved a bigger irritant on the day. (Photo: Abierto Mexicano Telcel)

There are two Canadians in the top three on the ATP Tour, but not in the category you’d optimally want.

Alexander Zverev led the ATP Tour going into this week with 220 double faults for the season. Denis Shapovalov is second, and Auger-Aliassime is right behind him at No. 3.

But despite the hiccup when he served for the match, the Canadian felt it was a good serving day overall.

“Until 5-4, I think I had one double fault, it was a good match on serve up to then. And since the start of the year, things are going well,” he said. “I think that allowed me to serve well at 5-6, and pretty well in the tiebreak, too.”

Auger-Aliassime said that the most important thing right now, compared to a couple of years ago when one bad serving game could snowball, is to be able to rebound and ultimately find a solution.

There was another double fault when Auger-Aliassime was serving at 4-1 in the second-set tiebreak. But he still was in control.

The first two match points came on his serve, and he lost both.

Auger-Aliassime did look just slightly shell-shocked at that point. Just for a brief moment.

But once again, he regrouped quickly.

Sandgren did little more than make balls at 6-6 in the tiebreak, and Auger-Aliassime stepped up and fired a forehand winner. But he missed a swing volley by a hair on match point No. 5.

Missed it by THAT much, on match point (Screenshot: TennisTV)[/caption]

In fact, it was called good; Sandgren’s challenge was successful.

But then, Auger-Aliassime’s serve came through for him.

A massive second serve at 7-7. And then an unreturnable first serve on match point No. 6.

After that, a few big exhales, sighs of relief.

“He put a lot of returns in play, even if later in the rallies I felt I was dominating. So it’s never easy,” he said.

Better prepared for Acapulco conditions in 2021

When Auger-Aliassime made his Acapulco debut last year, he was coming straight off an impressive run indoors: back-to-back finals in Rotterdam and Marseille.

It was a lot of tennis. And there was no turnaround time as he flew straight to Acapulco to play outdoors in the heat and humidity.

Lesson learned.

A straight-sets win over Sandgren was a good way to open in Acapulco. (Photo: Abierto Mexicano Telcel)

“Like others did last year, you use the current system to your advantage. I was able to keep my Marseille points without playing the tournament. So that’s fine,” he said. But I wouldn’t repeat what I did last year. It was too tough for my body to adapt, and I just wasn’t able to play a good, complete tournament.

“This year, I wanted to make the schedule to be able to get here ahead of time, to prepare and play the best tournament possible,” he said.

Auger-Aliassime will team up with Milos Raonic in doubles.

His second-round singles match will be against newbie Sebastian Korda – a rare occasion when Auger-Aliassime plays an opponent his age.

Korda, who is behind Auger-Aliassime on the developmental curve but rising quickly, is a month older.

He eliminated 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic 7-5, 6-2, in the late match Monday. Cilic won just 19 per cent of points on his second serve.

(All pics courtesy of Abierto Mexicano Telcel)