Felix Auger-Aliassime made the quarterfinals of the 2022 Australian Open, defeating Marin Cilic 2-6 7-6 6-2 7-6. It was hardly a perfect match by the Canadian, but he once again displayed his ability to problem-solve, which has been absolutely essential in his last few Grand Slam runs. From someone recognized as rather fragile mentally, the 21-year-old has developed into a player that thrives under pressure.
Felix Auger-Aliassime at the 2022 Australian Open
The Canadian has now made three consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinals, going one step further at the US Open. One of the factors that played a major role in that is his performance in tie-breakers. Dating back to Wimbledon last year, Auger-Aliassime won 12 out of his last 13 at the Majors. He clinched both contested on the grass in London, then went 5-0 in New York. The only tie-breaker the 21-year-old lost in his last fifteen Grand Slam matches came against Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the second round of the Australian Open. The Canadian took three sets like that against the Spaniard anyway and added two more to that resume on Monday against Marin Cilic.
Down a set to the Croat and not really playing his best, there was a lot of pressure on Auger-Aliassime to win the second and level the match. A 2-0 lead for Cilic seemed like something that could effectively end the match right there, given the quality at which they were both playing. The Canadian managed to find an ace at 5-6 down though and while the whole affair was shaky, took the tie-breaker 9-7. It turned out to be the turning point of the match as Auger-Aliassime went on to make his third Grand Slam quarterfinal, winning another tie-break over Cilic in the process.
Ability to adapt
Cilic got off to a great start and completely dominated any longer rallies, at one point leading 17-3 in the ones that took from 5 to 8 shots, and 5-2 in the ones over nine shots. What kept Auger-Aliassime in the match though was his sensational serve plus one play, setting up the points with his delivery to instantly finish them with a killer forehand. While he never managed to make up for the deficit in medium and longer rallies, he ended the match with a 110-84 lead over Cilic in the ones consisting of 0-4 shots. That included winning an absolutely phenomenal 84% (81/96) of short rallies behind his own serve.
Unable to execute his game in Set 1, the Canadian dug deep and changed his strategy to match the requirements of Cilic on that day. The depth of his return improved massively, particularly on the Croat’s 2nd serve. Cilic took 60% of the points on his second delivery in set 1 and 54% in Set 2. These stats took a massive downfall not long after, ending up at 24% in the third and 38% in the fourth. Auger-Aliassime slowly but surely cleaned up his game and played with a lot more margin, something that he usually wasn’t able to achieve in the past. Many of the Canadian’s losses used to be about not finding the right rhythm and looking clueless out there, without an idea of how to fight it through. Those days seem to be behind him.
It’s been a grind
It took Auger-Aliassime 13 hours and 28 minutes to progress into the fourth round. Despite that, the Canadian said in his post-match interview, “I feel good, it’s still early in the day, I’m gonna have a lot of time to recover before I play on Wednesday, so it’s the perfect scenario.” He’s really been excellent physically, maintaining a lot of energy for the tight finishes against Emil Ruusuvuori, Davidovich Fokina, and Cilic. The only straightforward match he had saw him play Dan Evans, an opponent who can certainly expose fitness issues with his knifing backhand slice. You have to bend the knees very low to inject power off that shot, but even after two rough opening rounds, Auger-Aliassime moved around his backhand beautifully to dictate play with the forehand.
Up next is a matchup with Daniil Medvedev, one of two players to beat Auger-Aliassime so far this year (along with Taylor Fritz). The Canadian won just four games against him at the ATP Cup and has never beaten the Russian in three attempts. But after all, the 21-year-old had the very same head-to-head record coming into the match against Cilic. He’s been a different player at the Grand Slams for the past half a year or so. The problem-solving takes his game to a completely new level and with Medvedev showing some vulnerability against Maxime Cressy, Felix Auger-Aliassime will have a shot.
Main Photo from Getty.