Melbourne 2021: Dan Evans hopes it’s third time lucky after setting final showdown vs Auger-Aliassime
Italy surges on: final of ATP Cup, plus all-Italian final between Sinner and Travaglia
British No1 Dan Evans continued his excellent form in Melbourne with a win over Jeremy Chardy, 6-2, 6-2, in barely one hour.
It takes him to his third career final at the Murray River Open, one of six lead-in tournaments being played at the home of the Australian Open this week. There, he will play the outstanding young Canadian, world No21 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat Corentin Moutet in equally impressive style, 6-1, 6-2.
And while there may be a 10-year age gap between the two men, both 30-year-old Evans and 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime are in pursuit of their first title. However a measure of just how talented the Canadian is can be measured in his record thus far: He has notched up six finals in the last two years.
Auger-Aliassime reached five of those finals as a teenager—the youngest five-time finalist since Rafael Nadal in 2004-5. He then became the youngest ATP500 finalist in 2019 in Rio—and made the final of the Rotterdam 500 a year later. He went on to become the youngest semi-finalist ever at the Miami Masters, winning seven matches through qualifying. That took him from a ranking of 108 to inside the top 20 in the space of one season, and he may have achieved even more were it not for an ankle injury at the end of 2019.
So Evans will have his work cut out against his tall, young opponent in their first meeting. But there are many who will be more than pleased to see the bustling, urgent all-court style of Evans finally rewarded.
His flair and ability were never in doubt, but until he was forced off the tour in 2017 after testing positive for cocaine, he did not truly get to grips with the necessary dedication and work-ethic that tennis demands. However he came back with a fresh perspective, ranked outside the top 1,000, and grafted his way through Challenger events to break the top 100 after reaching his last final in Delray Beach.
After an intense run on his favourite grass through the summer of 2019, and back-to-back Challenger titles, he reached the third round at Wimbledon—where, incidentally, he practised with Roger Federer more than once, having spent a training block with the Swiss in the spring.
Evans went on to become the British No1 for the first time that October and made a career-high No28, posting eight wins over top-20 players, last year. He ended that disjointed season with two semi runs in Antwerp and Vienna, and has shown similar form at the start of this extraordinary Melbourne season.
He will be seeded No30 at next week’s Australian Open—though unfortunately, he has drawn the only other Briton in the draw, Cameron Norrie, in the first round. But before that, a statement victory would go down very nicely with Evans and his many admirers.
Thus far, he has not dropped a set. He played a fine match of two tie-breaks to beat No4 seed Borna Coric in the quarters—and that on top another win earlier the same day. Against Chardy, he went 21/21 on first serve and did not face a break point, though he afterwards admitted to being a little tired.
“Yeah, played pretty well today. It was good to get a quick match. Obviously I had a pretty long day yesterday, so it was good to go through in straight sets.
“I played pretty good at the end of last year and sort of carried it on to the start of this year, hopefully. Got in a bit of a rhythm this week. Had a difficult first round and probably didn’t play my best, but I’m starting to feel pretty good now.”
He will need to draw on that form for his final push. As he said:
“[Felix] a very good tennis player, very aggressive, big game. I’ll have to try and stop his attacking play. Maybe play a bit more aggressive and put him on the defensive.”
In the other ATP 250 in Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road Open, Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares, reunited after going their separate ways during the 2019 French Open, reached the doubles final after winning two matches on one day. They will play top seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah for the title.
Italy taking Melbourne by storm
Italy continues to set a high profile in Melbourne this week. In the ATP Cup, the strong duo of No10 Matteo Berrettini and No17 Fabio Fognini, beat the fellow top-20 pairing of Pablo Carreno Busta and Roberto Bautista Agut to seal a final spot, 2-0. Spain was again without No2 Nadal, who has been struggling with a sore back.
Italy will take on the even higher ranked pair of Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev after the Russians beat Germany in the shape of Alexander Zverev and Jan-Lennard Struff, though both Russian men needed three sets for the first time this week to do so.
Meanwhile, the brilliant Italian teenager, Jannik Sinner, who ended last year with his first career title in Sofia, was outstanding in a three-set, three-hour-plus battle with No2 seed Karen Khachanov, winning 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(4), and saving a match-point at 5-6 in the final set.
It extends Sinner’s run to nine match-wins and will take him to a new career high of 34—higher still if he wins the tournament—but too late to edge a seeding at the Australian Open. There, he has been drawn in a cracker-jack opening match against No11 seed Denis Shapovalov.
For now, though, Sinner will face countryman and first-time ATP finalist Stefano Travaglia, ranked 75 at the age of 29—and for the older man, a huge milestone after a severe hand injury 10 years ago looked like the end of his career. Certainly for Sinner, seeing so many fellow Italians in the mix is great news:
“It’s great for Italy to see many great players. I think everyone pushes each other a little bit… Everyone is playing very, very good tennis. Everyone is different as player, so I think it’s great to see.”
Fognini, the veteran in the mix at 33 and now a father, has a rather different perspective:
“When [Jannik] is coming, I’m not going to play. I’m too old now—33, 34 in May. So I’m going to relax with fishing, enjoy life as much as we can.”
Grampians Trophy: Due to the delayed schedule and the start of the Australian Open on Monday, only the semi-finals will be played on Sunday: the final is abandoned.
· Maria Sakkari vs Anett Kontaveit (who advanced after withdrawal of Victoria Azarenka);
· Jennifer Brady vs Ann Li.
Yarra Valley Classic final
· Ash Barty (who advanced after withdrawal of Serena Williams) vs Garbine Muguruza
Gippsland Trophy final
· Kaia Kanepi vs Elise Mertens (who advanced after withdrawal of Naomi Osaka)