Felix Auger-Aliassime continued his battling progress through the Australian Open draw on Friday with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win against 28th seed Francisco Cerundolo. After coming from behind in each of his first two Melbourne victories, the Canadian never trailed in John Cain Arena, advancing to the fourth round for the third straight year Down Under.
The sixth seed made a blistering start by racing to a 5-0 lead, in stark contrast to his previous matches against Vasek Pospisil and Alex Molcan, in which he lost the opening set — as well as set two in the second round against Molcan.
“I had a great start compared to my two first rounds, so this was better,” he said post-match. “It kind of gave me a little cushion. Against tough opponents there’s going to be ups and downs. I was playing a bit tight and not going for it in the second set, and he did, so credit to him.
“I’m happy with the way I turned things around and I think the last two sets were probably some of my best ones so far this tournament.”
Sealed with a ninth ace on the day.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2023
Cerundolo claimed the second set by dragging Auger-Aliassime into longer rallies, securing his only two breaks of the match in successive return games. But the Argentine could not generate a break point in any other set as his opponent’s quick-strike tennis kept him in control.
While Auger-Aliassime may have been disappointed not to take any of his seven late break chances late in the fourth set — three of which doubled as match points — he closed out the contest with authority, clinching victory with his ninth ace.
“Pure relief and happiness,” the Canadian said of his feelings after the win. “I’ve been playing well the past few years here, for the third time in a row in the Round of 16. I’ve had some great memories, especially on this court, it’s one of the best crowds in the world.”
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Finishing in two hours, 35 minutes, the third-round match is the shortest of the 22-year-old’s tournament so far. He next faces 2022 Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up Jiri Lehecka.
Auger-Aliassime reached the Melbourne quarter-finals for the first time last year, surrendering a two-set lead to eventual finalist Daniil Medvedev in a heartbreaking defeat. The pair could square off again in the semi-finals this fortnight. Should Auger-Aliassime reach that stage, it would equal his best Grand Slam result (2021 US Open).
While he has held steady at No. 7 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings this week, the Canadian can move ahead of Rafael Nadal at No. 6 with one more win in Melbourne.
Cerundolo, 24, was bidding to extend his best major run; he had not advanced beyond the first round in four previous Grand Slam appearances. The Argentine won his first tour-level title last year in Bastad, where he earned his first Top 10 win against Casper Ruud.
Lehecka set the meeting with Auger-Aliassime by delivering a resilient display to upset 11th seed Cameron Norrie 6-7(8), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. The Czech’s Melbourne run appeared in danger after Norrie forged a two-sets-to-one lead on Kia Arena, but Lehecka charged back to secure a win in which he struck 51 winners to his opponents 31.
Lehecka’s three-hour, 12-minute win avenged his three-set loss to Norrie at the ASB Classic in Auckland just nine days ago. The 21-year-old arrived in Melbourne with a 0-4 record at Grand Slams but has now taken out two seeded opponents en route to the fourth round, following his first-round victory against Borna Coric.
Three victories in Melbourne have lifted Lehecka 21 spots to No. 50 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. He is the 11th Czech man in the Open Era to reach the Round of 16 at the Australian Open.