Felix Auger-Aliassime’s red-hot streak may have hit a recent blip, but the Canadian could not be kept down for long at the Nitto ATP Finals.
The fifth seed bounced back impressively from his opening defeat to Casper Ruud at the season finale in Turin, where he defeated top seed Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday to notch his maiden victory at the prestigious season finale.
“I think having one match here, I got used to the conditions on centre court,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It helped me a lot. I felt my game was better today. My serve was great and return and backhand was much better. I was hitting it with my more consistency and quality. When I am playing like this, I have proven I can compete and beat some of the best players in the world.”
Despite the loss, Nadal has not been eliminated from contention for year-end No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. If Ruud wins a set against Taylor Fritz on Tuesday evening, Nadal will be eliminated from semi-final contention in Turin and therefore Carlos Alcaraz will clinch year-end World No. 1.
Auger-Aliassime withstood some early pressure from the top-seeded Nadal, recovering from 15/40 to hold serve in the both the first and seventh games of the first set. The Canadian produced precise serving and struck the ball cleanly off both wings at important moments throughout, saving five of five break points to improve his record in Green Group to 1-1. He will take on Taylor Fritz in his final round-robin match at the Pala Alpitour as he seeks to reach the semi-finals on tournament debut.
“I am one win, one loss now. If I can get two wins, hopefully I can get through, so let’s see how it goes,” Auger-Aliassime said. “They will play it out tonight and I will be ready for Taylor in two days. It won’t be easy. He has been playing really good this year and these conditions are perfect for him.
“I will use the experience of Toni [Nadal] in these situations. He has been a great help to me. I have a tonne of respect for him and his family. It is special to play Rafa with Toni here, but at the same time we are competitors, and we try our best.”
The quality of Auger-Aliassime’s serving performance is reflected in his INSIGHTS Serve Quality numbers for the match. He fired 15 aces and won 81 per cent (39/48) of points behind his first delivery in the one-hour, 57-minute encounter.
Felix Auger-Aliassime: INSIGHTS Serve Quality Vs. Rafael Nadal
The 22-year-old was delighted to have defeated his childhood idol Nadal for the first time in three appearances. Auger-Aliassime had come close to the feat in the pair’s most recent tour-level meeting at Roland Garros in May, but the legendary Spaniard ultimately prevailed in a five-set epic.
“I wasn’t sure If I would be here one day or if I could only dream of it,” said Auger-Aliassime. “The age difference is huge, and it proves what a champion he is and what an example because he is still here at 36, battling against guys in their young 20s. He is a great champion and has a great attitude.”
Nadal appeared keen to atone for his opening defeat against Fritz in Turin as he carved out two break points in the first game against Auger-Aliassime. However, as it did so often during his late-season charge, the Canadian consistently produced big deliveries to escape.
Having had little impact in return games in the early stages, Auger-Aliassime made his move in the eighth game, clinching the only break of the set as his ability to strike clean winners in the fast conditions came to the fore.
The momentum stayed with the Canadian in the early stages of the second set and he ramped up the pressure on Nadal with a break for 2-1. Despite some flashes of brilliance from the Spaniard, he was unable to frequently dictate points as Auger-Aliassime finished the match having struck 32 winners to Nadal’s 13.