Auger-Aliassime joins fellow Canadian Shapovalov in Aussie Open quarter-finals
Montreal native beats Cilic in 4 sets, will next face No. 2 seed Medvedev
Some 24 hours after Denis Shapovalov reached his first Australian Open men's singles quarter-final, his friend and countryman Felix Auger-Aliassime joined him in the final eight.
Auger-Aliassime overcame a fast and furious start by 2018 finalist Marin Cilic and held on tight until he could turn things around, in a 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory on a steamy Monday in Melbourne that challenged even the fittest tennis players in the world.
Fellow Canadian Milos Raonic has reached the quarter-finals or better at the Australian Open five times.
But this is the first time two Canadians have done it in the same year. And it's the second time in the last three Grand Slam tournaments that they have done it.
It's also the third consecutive Grand Slam tournament in which Auger-Aliassime has reached at least the quarter-final stage.
Now it gets even tougher, as they take on the two biggest favourites to take the title among the eight who will remain after Monday's play.
WATCH | Auger-Aliassime beats Cilic in 4 sets:
On Wednesday, Auger-Aliassime will play No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, who survived the throwback serve-volley game of American Maxime Cressy — as well as the heat and some physical woes — to advance on Monday 6-2, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (4), 7-5.
The second-ranked Medvedev is trying to become the first man in the Open era to win his second major singles title in the next Grand Slam event. He's now potentially three wins from achieving that.
Medvedev was a runner-up in Australia last year but avenged that with a win over Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.
Djokovic isn't defending his Australian Open title after being deported on the eve of the year's first major for failing to meet the country's strict COVID-19 vaccination criteria.
Shapovalov faces Nadal
Shapovalov will square off against 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal on Tuesday.
"I'm thrilled for him, and thrilled for Canadian tennis. I think we're both showing that we're not here by chance. We're proving week after week that we're here to stay," Auger-Aliassime said.
The Montreal native had managed just one set in three previous losses to Cilic.
The Croat was nearly untouchable in the first set; there wasn't much Auger-Aliassime could do.
Compared to other times I played him, there was less panic on my part.— Felix Auger-Aliassime on Monday's win over Marin Cilic
The 21-year-old Canadian was erratic on the forehand, too — a problem he's spent the last couple of years on tour trying to resolve.
He hung on by his fingernails, waiting for Cilic's superb level to drop, and for his own to rise.
"I tried to stay in contact, find a solution little by little. And I started to serve better in the second set," Auger-Aliassime said.
"Compared to other times I played him, there was less panic on my part. I stayed calmer. I believed in myself a bit more, and I think that's what made the difference at the end," he went on. "It's a nice improvement for me, in various aspects of my game."
Medvedev is another player Auger-Aliassime has yet to beat in three tries.
He came closest in their first meeting, at the National Bank Open in Toronto in 2018 as Auger-Aliassime was just turning 18. Medvedev won in a third-set tiebreak.
Medvedev also won in straight sets at the U.S. Open last September, in Auger-Aliassime's first Grand Slam semifinal appearance, and won the tournament.
"We've both evolved throughout the times we played. That first time he wasn't the Medvedev of today, and I'm not the same either," Auger-Aliassime said.
"At the U.S. Open, my level was pretty good. I had a set point on my racquet in the second set. The match might have been a bit different, had I converted it."
The two met again in the semifinals of the ATP Cup earlier this month in Sydney. That was a 6-4, 6-0 win for Medvedev.
Canadian men making an impact
Canadian tennis fans have been up until all hours because of the 16-hour time difference, watching the two Canadian men reach the latter stages of the first Grand Slam tournament of the season.
Auger-Aliassime hopes the Melbourne sunshine — and the winning — can be a bit of a distraction from all that's going on back home.
"With the very cold winter, the pandemic protocols and confinement, I hope we can put smiles on people's faces," he said.
He also hopes it sends a message about Canadian tennis.
"I hope it gives the idea to people back home that this is possible. I mean, we have done it. I truly believe that other Canadians can do that as well, even though we were not originally a tennis country," he said. "I think now we really are. We have shown that over and over again."
Tsitsipas outlasts Fritz
Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas survived a fourth-round battle with American Taylor Fritz on Monday, twice coming from a set behind to win 4-6 6-4 4-6 6-3 6-4.
At just past midnight on Rod Laver Arena, the Greek ended Fritz's resistance to set up a clash with Italian Jannik Sinner, when he will be seeking to reach the semifinals here for the third time in his career.
Tsitsipas, 23, looked out of sorts and edgy at times but his greater experience on the big stage eventually told as he got the decisive break in the fifth set before claiming victory.
In other matches:
Alize Cornet, In her 17th trip to the Australia Open and 63rd run at a Grand Slam, recovered after a second-set meltdown in the hot Melbourne sun to advance to the last eight with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over two-time major champion Simona Halep.
No. 115-ranked Kaia Kanepi waited until she was 36 to reach the quarter-finals in Australia and finally advancing when, after wasting four match points, she upset second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (7).
American Danielle Collins, a 2019 Australian Open semifinalist, beat 19th-seeded Elise Mertens 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in an almost three-hour match.
No. 11 Jannik Sinner ended Australia's last hope in the men's draw when he beat No. 32 Alex de Minaur 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4.
With files from Reuters