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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, September 5, 2021


Felix Auger-Aliassime saved a set point in the tie breaker topping Frances Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(6), 6-4 to reach his second straight major quarterfinal.

Photo credit: Darren Carroll/USTA/US Open

Friendly fire lit up Arthur Ashe Stadium tonight.

Frances Tiafoe calls buddy Felix Auger-Aliassime “box office” for his dynamic appeal. Tonight, Auger-Aliassime performed with action star poise to power into his first US Open quarterfinal.

More: Carlos Alcaraz Makes US Open History

Auger-Aliassime slashed 24 aces and saved a set point in the tense tie breaker topping Tiafoe 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(6), 6-4 in a highly entertaining duel between friends and rising stars.

The jittery Canadian dropped serve in the opening game of the match then delivered a superb serving performance saving all four break points he faced the rest of the match and winning 84 percent of his first-serve points.

“It was a tough start for me—a lot of nerves—credit to you [the crowd],” Auger-Aliassime told ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe in his on-court interview. “After I tried to recover I felt like I could have been able to break back in the set—it is what it is.

“I played a great second set. The third set was almost a coin toss. He raised his level again. I did feel I had what it takes to win that set. I just had to stay strong on my serve in the end. I’m really happy. It’s a great win for me and I’m happy to be through.”

It’s a historic result. The 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime is the youngest man to reach consecutive major quarterfinals since Juan Martin del Potro contested the 2008 US Open, 2009 Australian Open and 2009 Roland Garros quarterfinals before his 21st birthday.

This New York story has seen Auger-Aliassime fight off former Wimbledon semifinalist Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets in round three and take down Tiafoe and the raucous Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd in four physical sets to set up another blockbuster.

The 12th-seeded Canadian will be the veteran against 18-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz when they square off in Tuesday’s coming-of-age-quarterfinals with one advancing to a maiden major semifinal.

“He’s a great player. At some point age is just a number and he already feels like a player that’s established and he’s playing some amazing tennis,” Auger-Aliassime said of Alcaraz. “So I think we’ll see a lot of him, a lot of us, a lot of Frances in the future. And I hope we’ll play a good match next Tuesday.”

The man from Montreal came out jittery gifting the opening break to Tiafoe. Net play helped spark Tiafoe’s comeback win over Andrey Rublev—he won 37 of 52 trips to net vs. the seventh-seeded Russian—and he showed superb volley skills digging out of a triple break point hole to hold for 3-1.

Playing from behind in several service games, Tiafoe stood tall zapping running forehands navigating a hard-fought hold for 5-3. By then, Tiafoe had denied all eight break points he faced.

Serving for the set, Tiafoe torched a forehand off the baseline then banged a body serve closing the 54-minute opener with the lone love hold of the set.

Auger-Aliassime was holding without too much trouble and finding the range on his forehand. Zapping a diagonal forehand, Auger-Aliassime snatched his first break of the night forging a 4-2 second-set lead. Tiafoe, who played until nearly 2:15 a.m. outlasting seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev in the third round, lost a bit of his sharp edge.

As Tiafoe’s energy level dipped, Auger-Aliassime asserted his aggression. The Canadian drilled a dipping pass denying Tiafoe’s serve-and-volley bid breaking again to snatch the second set.

Two hours into the match tension tightened as Auger-Aliassime made a stab volley then held his ground when Tiafoe drilled a pass right at him. Auger-Aliassime blocked a self-preservation volley that knocked him down. That key exchange helped the Canadian navigate a deuce hold for 4-3.

Tuning into the service muse, Auger-Aliassime fired four aces pushing his match total to 17 and holding for 5-4.

Staring down double set point in the next game, Tiafoe saved the first with a slider ace then dodged the second when Auger-Aliassime netted a forehand down the line off a high ball. Tiafoe passed that tough test to level crushing a 139 mph serve down the T in the process.

In the past, that squandered set point might have haunted Auger-Aliassime. Working with coach Toni Nadal, Rafa Nadal's uncle and original coach, Auger-Aliassime has tried to simplify his process and sharpen his focus on court.

"It is what it is; sometimes things don’t always go like you want," Auger-Aliassime said. "I’ve been working hard to try to stay in the moment, stay in the present. Of course it was tough to receover from that miss, but you know I gotta stay there and I gotta give myself a chance to win that set to stay in the match…So it’s encouraging for the rest of the tournament."

Stress spiked in the third-set tiebreaker as neither man could gain separation.

A bold Tiafoe attacked, flicked a fine volley and drew a netted pass for set point at 6-5. The calm Canadian erased it with a sharp serve down the T. Throughout the set, Auger-Aliassime whipped the wide serve on the deuce side with precision and did it again earning a fourth set point at 7-6.

Reading Tiafoe’s second serve, Auger-Aliassime ran around his backhand and rocketed a forehand return into the body capping a phenomenal 69-minute set with a heavy strike. Under intense pressure, Auger-Aliassime showed his shotmaking skills slashing 21 winners and eight aces without facing a break point in the set.

The 50th-ranked Tiafoe took an extended break for a clothing change, while Auger-Aliassime sat on the court-side signage waiting for his friend to return to start the fourth set.

A harsh greeting awaited as Tiafoe got down break point in the opening game then jerked a wild forehand wide to give up the break. Down triple break point in the next game, Auger-Aliassime did not blink using his slider serve out wide to open the court for a five-point blitz backing up the break for 2-0.

Serving for the quarterfinals at 5-4, Auger-Aliassime badly bungled an open-court drive volley. Would the Canadian tighten up in this last service game just as he had in the first? 

On this night, Auger-Aliassime had all the answers.

Allowing the roaring crowd noise to subside, the Canadian cracked his 24th ace for match point. Auger-Aliassime opened the court and fired one final forehand finishing a majestic performance in three hours, 23 minutes.


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