Felix Auger-Aliassime had his back against it literally and figuratively on Tuesday evening in Rome, but the Canadian star found a way to win.
The eighth seed rallied past in-form Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-2 after three hours and two minutes to reach the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
“It’s a great win. Great for my confidence to be able to spend three hours on the clay. Very encouraging for what’s to come here and in Paris,” Auger-Aliassime said in his on-court interview. “I feel good physically. I was able to battle it out with one of the best young clay-court players we have in the game right now. He’s not playing this way by accident. He’s playing really well consistently, so it’s a great win for me.”
After the first set, a victory looked far from certain. Davidovich Fokina stormed through the end of the opening set and Auger-Aliassime then took a medical timeout to receive treatment on his back.
“At the end of the first set I went for a slide forehand and something tweaked in my back. I just felt a sharp pain, so I thought it would be good to get some treatment, some medication,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But after it felt okay. It’s not the best, but it feels good.”
Davidovich Fokina, the recent Monte Carlo finalist, earned two break points at 4-4 in the second set. On the first, he controlled the point, but missed an inside-out forehand. On the second, Auger-Aliassime painted the sideline with a forehand approach shot.
The Canadian then found his best tennis to battle through the tie-break and pull away in the deciding set. According to Tennis Data Innovation’s Insights, the key was how often Auger-Aliassime was on offence.
Although the opponents were similarly efficient on offence and defence, the Balance of Power showed that Auger-Aliassime was in an attacking position 31 per cent of the time compared to 22 per cent for Davidovich Fokina. The average on Tour is 21 per cent.
“He was playing amazing, to be honest. I wasn’t playing so bad. Unfortunately got broken in a tight game that he played good. Saved a couple important break points in the second set, was able to turn it around, played a great tie-break,” said Auger-Aliassime, who will next face 12th seed Diego Schwartzman or American lucky loser Marcos Giron. “Third set was the best of all, for sure. It’s great to finish that way and it’s very encouraging for what is to come.”
Another Canadian, 13th seed Denis Shapovalov, defeated Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-4, 7-6(5). The lefty will challenge third seed Rafael Nadal or big-serving American John Isner for a place in the quarter-finals.
Shapovalov only faced one break point against 2021 Indian Wells finalist Basilashvili and he saved it. The 23-year-old won 85 per cent of his first-serve points in his one-hour, 40-minute victory.