So close, yet so far away.
Despite surging ahead to a two-sets-to-love lead, Félix Auger-Aliassime was unable to overcome an inspired, in-the-zone effort from Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev, who saved his best for last to oust the Canadian 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
Auger-Aliassime came firing out of the gates, breaking the Russian’s serve early. Though he’d relinquish the break back immediately, the World No. 19 – a finalist last week at one of the Australian Open tune-up events – steadied the ship and secure another break, which was all that would be needed to earn him the set.
Daunted by Auger-Aliassime’s adept mix of power and lightning-quick speed around the court, Karatsev dropped serve early on in the second set. This time, however, Auger-Aliassime would succeed in consolidating, surviving a tense 16-shot rally on break point down and then riding the momentum to a hold – and not long later came the set.
With little to lose, Karatsev began the third set with a refreshed mentality and greater discipline on his low-margin groundstrokes. But in the fifth game of the set, Auger-Aliassime, looking to maintain the measured play that had seen him sprint through the match thus far, blinked. The Montreal native dug himself into a 0-40 hole that he couldn’t climb his way out of, gifting a break of serve to the Russian and changing the complexion of the match completely.
And just like that, Karatsev would win the the third set.
As a newfound confidence – and consistency – took over Karatsev’s game, hesitation and indecision seeped its way into Auger-Aliassime’s. Unwavering from the tactics that gave him his early leads but no longer benefitting from unforced errors off his opponent’s racquet, Auger-Aliasime dropped serve early in the fourth, surrendering all his momentum and increasing in frustration.
With the fourth set going to the way of the Russian World No. 114, a coveted place in the Australian Open final eight would come down to a single set shootout. Following a similar script to the following two sets, Auger-Aliassime dropped serve early on in the fifth after failing to land a first serve in the third game.
Though he’d adjust his return position in an attempt to made a dent in the increasingly untouchable Karatsev service delivery, it ultimately would remain just that: untouchable. After three hours and 25 minutes, Auger-Aliassime’s Australian Open campaign came to a close with Karatsev hitting one final forehand winner to seal the win.
Though it will no doubt be a tough pill for the Canadian to swallow, at just 20 years old he has a long career ahead of him to improve as a player with many more Grand Slam opportunities to come.