Auger-Aliassime breezes into Round of 16 at Australian Open

Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada plays a forehand return to Daniel Evans of Britain during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022. (Simon Baker/AP Photo)

MELBOURNE, Australia — For the second year in a row at the Australian Open, Montreal’s Félix Auger-Aliassime has advanced to the second week.

The 21-year-old Canadian, the No. 9 seed, swiftly dispatched No. 24 seed Dan Evans 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 Saturday to move into the round of 16.

On Monday, he’ll play No. 27 seed Marin Cilic for a spot in the quarterfinals. Cilic knocked off No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev 7-5, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3 on Saturday.

This is the fourth time in his last five Grand Slam appearances that Auger-Aliassime has reached the second week. That includes a semifinal effort at the US Open last September, and a Wimbledon quarterfinal last July.

It’s starting to feel like familiar territory.

“It’s like everything in life. When you break new ground you don’t feel, let’s say, as comfortable, or you kind of feel out of your comfort zone. Now, of course, playing more and more Grand Slams and (having gone) to the semifinals, I feel more in my place,” Auger-Aliassime said.

The 21-year-old survived gruelling matches in his first two rounds at Melbourne Park. He was down two sets to one, and needed three hours, 40 minutes to get past Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in the first round on Tuesday.

Two days later, it took him four hours and 20 minutes to play four tiebreaks against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain. Auger-Aliassime won three of them, and prevailed largely on the strength of a great serving day.

Evans posed a different challenge.

The 31-year-old Brit put a 6-2, 6-3 beatdown on Auger-Aliassime at Melbourne Park a year ago in the final of a tune-up tournament, just before the Australian Open. It was Auger-Aliassime’s seventh unsuccessful tournament final (he has since added an eighth).

And it was the first career ATP Tour title for Evans, then 30.

A year later, even if he still is in search of that first title, the Canadian’s maturation is evident.

In a far more high-profile situation, he produced a far more positive outcome.

“I didn’t have the attitude I needed (last year). I didn’t have the desire. I didn’t serve as well. My level of play, the person I was then probably has nothing to do with who I am today,” Auger-Aliassime said of that final. “Today I’m more stable mentally. I know what I want to do on the court. I’m prepared to face different situations.

“And today, things went well for me. I served well from beginning to end. A close first set, but after that, two good sets. Can’t ask for more,” he added.

The statistics for Saturday’s win were sterling. The Canadian blasted 16 aces and double-faulted just three times.

He hit 40 winners, and made just 21 unforced errors.

“Twice as many winners as errors is a very good ratio. As a player if you can stay in that zone where you can really strike, hurt the opponent, but all the while keeping the errors to a minimum — that’s the ideal,” he said.

Notably, Auger-Aliassime had already saved two break point chances on his serve before earning his first on Evans’s serve, at 4-5 in the first set.

Evans came forward and butchered a swing volley into the net, handing the Canadian the first set.

Auger-Aliassime broke again early in the second set, after the Brit double-faulted on break point.

He broke Evans four more times — six times in all, on seven break opportunities. He was done by 7 p.m., with his next opponent playing late into Saturday night, Auger-Aliassime wrapped up the victory in one hour, 53 minutes.

As with his win over Davidovich Fokina, the serve was the key.

“When you can be consistent on your service games and win a lot of free points, it takes a lot of pressure off,” he said.

Evans admitted afterwards that he didn’t handle the extra time off, in the wake of a walkover given to him by second-round opponent Arthur Rinderknech of France, very well.

It gave him too much time to think, knowing he had beaten Auger-Aliassime before and getting a little ahead of himself.

“I thought about the match quite a lot and, yeah, probably overthought it. To be honest, he was obviously way better than me as well (Saturday). I missed my chance (at 4-4 in the first set) and I panicked a bit. That happens in tennis,” said Evans, who added that Auger-Aliassime is an excellent front-runner.

The Canadian’s next opponent is a former Australian Open finalist.

In 2018, Cilic defeated Rafael Nadal in five sets in the quarterfinals, then lost to Roger Federer in five sets in the final.

The 33-year-old Croat played his first Australian Open in 2007, when Auger-Aliassime was six years old.

Cilic is 3-0 against Auger-Aliassime. The most recent victory was in the Canadian’s eighth ATP Tour final, on grass in Stuttgart, Germany last June.

On Sunday (11 p.m. Saturday ET), Auger-Aliassime’s countryman Denis Shapovalov will meet No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev, with the winner going to the quarterfinals.

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