Canada’s Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov fall in Miami Open semifinals

Tim and Sid discuss the exciting rise of Canada’s best young tennis players.

MIAMI — Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s run at the Miami Open was put to an end by the man he grew up cheering for.

Roger Federer beat Shapovalov 6-2, 6-4 on Friday to advance to the final at the Miami Open, where he will play No. 7 seed and defending champion John Isner of the United States.

"He’s got every shot mastered," said Shapovalov, who considers Federer his idol. "When he needs a shot, he’s going to go for it and he’s going to make it. I don’t think he has any weaknesses."

The 20th-seeded Shapovalov struggled early and fell behind quickly against the veteran on his way to dropping the match in one hour 12 minutes.

He survived eight unforced errors on first serve in the opening set, but couldn’t overcome added mistakes and was down 4-1 after a double fault gave fourth-seeded Federer match point. Federer went on to take the set in 37 minutes.

The 19-year-old came out stronger for the second set and, after holding serve, looked to be on his way to breaking Federer for the first time. But the 37-year-old held off the Canadian and then broke Shapovalov right after to go up 2-1.

Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., hung around and used a cross-court backhand to make it 5-4, but Federer ended it on next serve to reach his fifth career Miami Open final.

"It was a tactical match by me," Federer said. "I’m happy I was able to play with variations."

Federer was Shapovalov’s favourite player growing up and the Canadian said after his quarterfinal victory on Thursday that it would be a dream come true facing the Swiss legend.

The age gap with Shapovalov was the largest of Federer’s career, and experience triumphed. Federer used a wide array of shotmaking to take control with two early breaks, and he lost only eight points on his serve.

Despite the loss, Shapovalov will climb to a career-best No. 20 in the rankings.

"Denis is a great player," Federer said, "and he will be even better in the future."

Meanwhile, fellow Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime may have exceeded all expectations at the Miami Open, but he wasn’t about to declare a moral victory after letting an opportunity slip away.

The 18-year-old Montreal native lost 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) to Isner in a tight semifinal at the ATP Tour Masters 1000 event earlier on Friday.

The youngest semifinalist in the 35-year history of the tournament, Auger-Aliassime was broken while serving for each of the first two sets, allowing the six-foot-10 American to rally.

"I think I did the best that I could," Auger-Aliassime said. "I probably did the best of all the players that played him this week. I just couldn’t serve from my part.

"It’s a chance you can’t miss, serving two times for the set, and just — I don’t know. It’s just terrible."

Auger-Aliassime was particularly frustrated with one game in the first set when he double-faulted three times while serving with a 5-4 edge. Isner got the break and proceeded to win the tiebreak.

"Yeah, for sure, nerves," Auger-Aliassiame said. "It’s like I caught a virus or something. I don’t know.

"I couldn’t put a second serve (in) any more. Even the first serve, I mean, if you put it in, you don’t have to hit the second serve. Yeah, that’s just very tough to swallow."

The big-serving Isner is now 9-0 in tiebreaks this tournament.

Auger-Aliassime won two qualifying matches before taking another five in a row to advance to the final four. He recorded just the third and fourth breaks against Isner all tournament, but couldn’t put him away.

The loss against Isner marked Auger-Aliassime’s first in six career matches versus top-20 players.

"I don’t know if it’s fatigue that maybe I lost my focus sometimes," Auger-Aliassime said. "I didn’t feel like it was the focus or concentration. I just felt like, I don’t know, the nerves got to me a little. Yeah, I wasn’t able to do like all the other matches and just focus on what I had to do, and it really got to me too hard."

In the second set when leading 5-3 and with serve, Auger-Aliassime fought off one break point before missing a swinging volley, giving Isner the key break.

Isner got the first point for a mini-break in the second tiebreak and never trailed.

As usual, Isner’s serve was his big weapon. He had 21 aces, 15 more than Auger-Aliassime.

Despite the loss, the 57th-ranked Auger-Aliassime is projected to rise to about 33rd in the rankings next week.

He was scheduled to return to action at a clay-court event in Morocco starting April 8, but said after Friday’s match that he will likely skip that event and start his clay season at the Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo the following week.

"Now I’m going home for some rest," Auger-Aliassime said. "Then I will start training for the clay season. Start in Monte Carlo and — yeah, obviously my goals and my expectations, maybe not my expectations, but I’m aiming high.

"I want to play well for the rest of the year, but again, just focus on the daily work. We’ll see what I can do."

Isner, meanwhile, was thrilled to return to the final.

"It’s amazing," the 33-year-old told the crowd after his victory. "I said before the tournament the chances were I would not defend my title. I’m very, very happy."

The women’s final Saturday will match No. 5 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic against No. 12 Ashleigh Barty of Australia.

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