Rotterdam 2022: Sky’s the limit as Auger-Aliassime cruises past Tsitsipas for first title

After eight finals, 21-year-old wins at tournament where he played first senior match, at age 17

Felix Auger-Alisassime
Felix Auger-Alisassime (Photo: ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam)

There was no getting away from the fact that top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas had, on paper, many advantages when he entered the Ahoy Arena to face No3 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the title match.

Already the brilliant 23-year-old Greek with his explosive, single-handed version of tennis had seven titles, among them a Masters title in Monte-Carlo last year and the ATP Finals trophy two years ago.

He had made another 10 finals, including the French Open last summer and two more Masters tournaments. Stir in four Major semis and it seemed just a matter of time until he was a Major champion—perhaps even a No1.

At this ATP500 level, however, he had yet to win from seven finals, ranging from Dubai, to Barcelona to Beijing, but now, for the first time, he would attempt to win a 500 on an indoor hard court—a surface on which he had won four of his seven titles.

Another stand-out advantage was perhaps Tsitsipas’s 5-2 advantage in previous main-tour meetings with his younger opponent, including their only previous final, on Marseille’s indoor hard courts—a victory for the Greek.

But the 21-year-old Canadian was on a rising curve of results, with his athletic, stylish, big-time tennis gaining more traction at almost every tournament. Of their three meetings last year, Auger-Aliassime had taken Tsitsipas to three sets in both their hard-court meetings. And since the last of those, he had reached he semis of the US Open, quarters at the Australian Open, and in between joined forces with Denis Shapovalov to win the ATP Cup.

Now a top-10 player, he had negotiated a rather tougher draw than Tsitsipas, beating first wild card Andy Murray, then No6 seed Cam Norrie and finally the defending champion and second seed Andrey Rublev.

However… this brilliant young Canadian was yet to win a solo tournament, despite reaching eight finals, including one in Rotterdam two years ago. Indeed he had been unable even to win a set in a final, but now was a chance to change all that at a tournament with special memories for him.

In 2018, as a 17-year-old, Auger-Aliassime played his first ever ATP match in Rotterdam. Then in 2020, he became the tournament’s youngest finalist, losing to Gael Monfils. He had now notched up more wins in 2022 than any other player, so could No12 also win him his first title back where it all started?

Tsitsipas opened proceedings, but Auger-Aliassime won the opening salvo, returning crisply to the Greek’s feet to earn a break point, and forcing another error to convert it. And the Canadian pressed home his advantage with an aggressive service game, held to love, with a couple of length-perfect winners: 2-0

By 4-2, Auger-Aliassime had dropped only two points on serve. He made another love hold, 5-3, and was 12-12 on first serve. However, Tsitsipas was bedding in, and producing cleaner serves and one-two strikes. The Canadian would have to maintain his focus, tactics, and high quality if he was to serve out the set—and he did so with aplomb.

A love hold, and he had his first ever set in a final, 6-4, and for the loss of only two points on serve. He had made 14 winners for only four errors, and was now just one set away from that elusive title.

Still Auger-Aliassime did not hold back, still struck the ball clean and hard off both wings, still stepped in to rush Tsitsipas. He broke to love, and then had break points for a 3-0 lead, but the Greek found some clutch serving to hold on.

Not so on his next service game: Auger-Aliassime did break for a second time, 4-1, but although he looked cool, calm and collected, he was surely getting some butterflies so close to reaching that milestone win.

An ace made it 5-1, as the clean hitting and clear thinking continued, but he would have to serve it out after a comfortable hold from Tsitsipas. The Greek looked in disbelief as a lunging backhand passed him for a winner, saw a forehand flash by for 30-0, and could not contain a big Canadian serve. The match ended as it had begun for Auger-Aliassime, a love hold and the match, 6-2.

Now, at last, the calm demeanour of the Canadian broke, he clutched his face, then roared to the rafters in celebration. But it was not long before he made his way from the arena to embrace his team and—a special presence—his mother. A teacher, she had just begun a sabbatical that enables her to travel with her son: And it proved a lucky omen. With his father on Facetime, too, the young Canadian gave way to tears.

And so back to court, to trophies, to a subdued Tsitsipas without, unusually, a parent in his box. He paid tribute to an opponent he had known since junior days, telling him more wins would follow but not, he hoped, when they played each other.

And there were tributes from both men to former champion and tournament director Richard Krajicek, who has always tried to give wild-card spots to young players with particular potential, the both these young talents played their first main-tour matches in Rotterdam.

But the final word went to Auger-Aliassime, as impressive a young man off the court, Krajicek stressed, as on it:

“It has not been the smoothest road since my first final three years ago! It is an amazing day for me to get my first title and especially here. I played my first ATP main draw here a few of years ago, so it is right I won my first title here… It’s the happiest day of my career, and hopefully the first of more to come.”

Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano: Man United 'really interested' in signing Antony from Ajax
Thomas Tuchel
Chelsea FC ready to compete with Arsenal and Spurs in race to sign Raphinha - report
Gossip
Erik ten Hag (Photo: Oleksandr Prykhodko / depositphotos.com)
Chelsea FC to rival Man United for Brazilian winger Antony - report
Gabriel Jesus
Steve McManaman: Brazilian attacker could be the ‘star man’ at Arsenal
Gossip
Thomas Tuchel
Man United, Chelsea FC keeping tabs on Atletico winger Yannick Carrasco - report
Gossip
Fabrizio Romano
Fabrizio Romano: Man United 'really interested' in signing Antony from Ajax
Thomas Tuchel
Chelsea FC ready to compete with Arsenal and Spurs in race to sign Raphinha - report
Gossip
Erik ten Hag (Photo: Oleksandr Prykhodko / depositphotos.com)
Chelsea FC to rival Man United for Brazilian winger Antony - report
Gabriel Jesus
Steve McManaman: Brazilian attacker could be the ‘star man’ at Arsenal
Gossip
Thomas Tuchel
Man United, Chelsea FC keeping tabs on Atletico winger Yannick Carrasco - report
Slideshow
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature
Top 50 Muslim footballers: Arsenal, Chelsea FC, Liverpool FC and Man United stars feature