Queen’s 2019: Teenage star Felix Auger-Aliassime beats top seed Tsitsipas to reach SF
Canadian 18-year-old becomes youngest Queen’s semi-finalist in 20 years
Two of the most exciting young players to hit the tennis headlines in the last year, the 20-year-old world No6 Stefanos Tsitsipas and 18-year-old No21 Felix Augur-Aliassime, went head-to-head on one of this sport’s most prestigious courts on the longest day of the year—and it spelled great news for the sport’s future.
Both arrived for their first Queen’s Club appearance at career-high rankings. In the last 12 months, Tsitsipas had won three titles, and risen from 37 via the Toronto and Madrid Masters finals and the Australian semi-finals, while Auger-Aliassime was still outside of the top 100 at the start of this year. Since then, he had reached three finals, including on the grass in Stuttgart last week, and was looking at breaking inside the top 20 this week.
With the start of the week washed out by rain, both had to play two matches on Thursday to reach the quarter-finals, and both survived severe tests.
Tsitsipas came from a set down to beat Jeremy Chardy by stealing two tie-breaks after two hours 40 minutes. Auger-Aliassime survived a see-sawing and emotionally demanding three-setter against Nick Kyrgios 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 7-5 after two and a quarter hours.
And while Tsitsipas had stacked up wins over the biggest names in tennis—Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer—along with countless ‘first-ever’ mentions along the way, the ‘new kid on the block’ was usurping those records at a rate. Now he was the youngest Queen’s Club quarter-finalist since Marin Cilic in 2007, and he did have one top-10 win to his name—over the man he faced now. It was in Indian Wells in March, and in straight sets.
In fairness, they had also played three times on the junior circuit—but the Canadian had won those as well.
The quietly-spoken, remarkably mature teenager recognised that this was a good match-up for him:
“For some reason my game style fits well with his. I just feel like he doesn’t have a lot of openings when I play him. I guess that’s maybe what he feels as well.”
But another reason why there was plenty of anticipation about this meeting was the style of tennis that both brought with them: strong, rangy, attacking, and smart.
Tsitsipas had already shown he had the game to suit grass—a single-handed backhand that could open up the court with slice and volley, a big serve, and an enthusiasm for coming to the net. And while Auger-Aliassime was competing in his first professional grass-court season, he was already 6-1 on grass this year.
He was clearly a little nervous as he opened on serve, and faced two break points in the third game. But he held, and would not face another in the set.
The two men were so closely matched, so eager to take the ball early and aggressively, that there was little between them. By 5-5, they stood at 30 points to 31, but after another hold by Auger-Aliassime, the Tsitsipas serve wavered just a little, and the Canadian pounced on his returns to break for the set, 7-5.
Auger-Aliassime then fended off a break point at the start of the second set, and began to look the fresher and more confident of the two players. His return game was uninhibited, and he made vicious returns to draw errors from the Greek, to find himself 0-40 up. He converted the second opportunity with another big forehand, and held for 3-0.
Now Tsitsipas called for the physio and there was a break in play for treatment to his right shoulder. And it seemed to work a treat—almost. Tsitsipas went after the Augur-Aliassime serve time and again, working four break chances, four deuces, but the Canadian held off the nine-minute challenge, 4-1.
And he showed he had plenty left in the tank with a couple of blistering returns in the eighth game. One backhand zipped over the highest part of the net to drop just inside the line, and he had two match-points. With an hour and 38 minutes on the clock, the teenager broke, 6-2, to reach the semis.
It makes him the youngest semi-finalist here since Lleyton Hewitt, who was also 18 in 1999. The Australian did not win the title that year, but he would go on to do so in the next three years. And many who have seen Augur-Aliassime’s debut here are talking of a future champion, too.
He is also a likeable, level-headed, courteous player, and one of the calmest of the rising crop of #NextGen players on the circuit. He began by thanking the crowds here who have clearly taken the teenager to their hearts:
“The great support I’ve been receiving in the last few days and since I’ve come here and on the practice courts, it has been great here so thanks for everyone.”
He then talked of the budding rivalry between himself and Tsitsipas. Will it be an enduring one?
“Yeah, hopefully. I think it would be great for the both of us. He will surely be a great champion, he already is, No6 in the world, so if I can be at the top as well and fight for these big titles, that would be great but the future will tell us if it will be a big rivalry. But it would be an honour for me to share the court with him many times.”
And what of his thoughts about perhaps becoming the new champion here? He smiled:
“I had zero expectations coming here. I had a great week last week, but it’s so much different. [Here] I had three matches against amazing players that I could have lost to, but I managed to handle my nerves and keep my serve, and I think it’s all good, but I don’t want to thing too far ahead.
“We’ll see how far I can go here and at Wimbledon.”
The Tsitsipas reaction was even more interesting:
“He’s the most difficult opponent I’ve ever faced and I think it’s gonna take a couple of tries to beat him… I have to accept that he’s better than me.”
And that from a man who has beaten almost every other player in the top 10 in the last year.
The next hurdle for the Canadian will be the former champion, 37-year-old Feliciano Lopez, who beat No6 seed Milos Raonic in three sets.
In the bottom half of the draw, No4 seed Daniil Medvedev beat Diego Schwartzman, 6-2, 6-2, and will now face Gilles Simon in the semi-finals, after the 34-year-old Frenchman ended the hopes of another 37-year-old, Nicolas Mahut, 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(3), in a three-hour 20-minute tussle.