Canadian hopes Down Under were boosted by an ATP Cup win inspired by Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime in January, while the women’s draw had teenage sensation Leylah Fernandez looking to back up her extraordinary run at the US Open late last year.
Unfortunately, Fernandez came unstuck in round one in Melbourne, beaten by Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis in straight sets. The Canadian youngster only hit eight winners in the match and couldn’t wrestle control of the rallies when returning serve.
It was tough going for Canada’s two hopes on the men’s side of the draw as Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime both came through a four-set and five-set match to reach round three. From there, they have lit up the tournament to cement themselves as two of the most exciting prospects in men’s tennis.
Denis the Menace
Shapovalov’s straight sets win over No.3 seed Alexander Zverev sent shockwaves through the draw, with the Canadian obliterating his opponent’s second serve, winning 15 of 21 points from it. Zverev’s first serve percentage of 76% kept him in the match, but Shapovalov proved too good in the longer rallies, winning 67% of rallies over five shots.
His reward was a match against Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals. Despite coming back from two sets down to level the score, Nadal showed his grit to triumph in the fifth set. A match of fine margins, Shapovalov hit 53 winners and 51 unforced errors as his aggression unsettled a tiring Spaniard, who dug deep, proving his experience and consistency in rallies as he won 70% of rallies between five and eight shots.
Despite the disappointment of just falling short of a famous win, the 22-year-old has shown enough quality to suggest a major title is in him. An experience like this is another string to his bow.
Auger-Aliassime’s tournament has come alive since round three, when he made easy work of 24th seed Dan Evans, with his play behind his first serve unstoppable as he won 39 of 43 points. In the following round he showed wits beyond his years as he withstood an early onslaught from Marin Cilic to outlast him in four sets.
One area he will need to improve as he heads into a quarter-final match-up with Daniil Medvedev is his break point proficiency. He was 2/15 on break points against Cilic and with Medvedev such a tough nut to crack, he will need to take his chances.
Top seed Medvedev is 3-0 against Auger-Aliassime and has beaten him convincingly in their two most recent matches. When Auger-Aliassime reached the US Open semi-finals in September last year, Medvedev proved too good, winning 6-4, 7-5, 6-2. The Russian won 46% of return points and forced Felix into errors as he soaked up his power from the back of the court. In his last two matches, Auger-Aliassime’s opponents have won 17% and 21% of return points as he was able to dominate behind his serve.
Félix. Auger. Aliassime.
— Tennis Canada (@TennisCanada) January 24, 2022
Auger-Aliassime made just 17 winners and hit 39 unforced errors in that semi-final, so he will need a different gameplan. This is now his third straight quarter-final at a Grand Slam, so he is cementing himself as one of the top 10 players in the world. The next jump is into the top five, but his record of 1-9 against top five players shows he has a way to go. That solitary win came against Zverev earlier this month at the ATP Cup, so he is making those steps.
Medvedev remains the favourite to land the title this week, so if Auger-Aliassime can come through that one, who knows what the week could bring?
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