Madrid tournament | Félix Auger-Aliassime defeated, but on the right track

Would Félix Auger-Aliassime have reached the final of the Madrid tournament, had it not been for Jannik Sinner’s withdrawal in the quarter-final? No one will ever know. The answer to the question remains the same if we replace the name of Sinner with those of Jakub Mensik and Jiri Lehecka, who retired in the middle of a match against the Quebecer earlier this week. One thing is certain, he fought with dignity against Andrey Rublev on Sunday, in a heartbreaking defeat.

The final score of 4-6, 7-5 and 7-5 in favor of the Russian perfectly illustrates the shape of the match.

At the start, Auger-Aliassime was conquering, combative and determined. We had the right to expect such a start to the meeting from the young man of 22 years, because he had saved up over the last few days. Three of his last four duels ended in his opponent’s retirement. He had spent only 6 hours 38 minutes on the reddish soil of the Spanish capital, an hour less than his opponent in the final.

Moreover, Rublev had also been bothered by physical problems in the last few days. He also had a very bad start to the season on clay, a surface on which he already had five titles.

In short, this opportunity was immense for Auger-Aliassime, also motivated by his first presence in the final of a Masters 1000 category tournament, the most prestigious after the Grand Slam series.


Félix Auger-Aliassime set his pace in the first round.

From the start of the match, dressed in his all-yellow uniform, the Quebecer imposed his pace in a dictatorial manner. Rarely before have we seen him so authoritarian. Especially in the first round. Everything worked out for him. His backhand, which he did not constantly deploy cross-court as he is used to, his first service balls and his playing patterns allowed him to take a 4-1 lead very quickly. By this time, he had already broken Rublev twice.

Moreover, the latter seemed extinct. His execution was messy and his serving game was unrecognizable. Very early on, he was pushed into the cables. Auger-Aliassime found a way to take him down in different ways, whether with a hook to the ribs, an uppercut to the chin or a jab to the tip of the nose.

The 35e world player, skillful and offensive on his opponent’s second balls, seemed to be heading towards an easy victory. Until the eighth racket in the world came out of its torpor in the sixth game.

Rublev’s return

Auger-Aliassime won the first set 6-4 in 48 minutes, but it could have been done much more quickly. He led 40-0 to 4-1, only to lose the point. A harmless and almost anecdotal clash at this moment of the meeting, but ultimately, it was from this game that Rublev came to life, like a pit bull whose muzzle had just been removed.

Even if Auger-Aliassime had very little to reproach himself for, the Russian returned to serving up to his standards. In return he was impassive, his balls were heavy and deep. Then, his effort was more sustained in the exchanges.

We finally saw the match we had every right to expect.


Andrey Rublev

Obviously, the pressure exerted by Rublev wore Auger-Aliassime down. The massage therapist came to visit him every time he changed sides in the third set, he arrived late on some baseline balls and his second serve completely failed him. It was also on a double fault that he offered the title to his rival after 2 hours 47 minutes.

Good progress

The result will undoubtedly have repercussions on Auger-Aliassime’s morale in the days to come, as he briefly managed to control this match. But it is still his tenth defeat in the final.

However, in the manner, the one who will point to the 20e rank in the ranking from Monday will be able to build on this performance. He is light years away from the player he was during his last defeat in the final, in Marseille in 2022, precisely against Rublev.

On Sunday, we discovered unsuspected qualities as a tactician, but above all we saw a player ambitious to find his touch and eager to regain the place that suits him in the ranking.

Encouraged, involved and tenacious, Auger-Aliassime seems more and more at ease in moments of tension. He did not hesitate to hit the backhand line in the final moments of the match, or to string together serves-volleys and drop shots. Even if it didn’t always pay off, the intention was there.

In this season of a thousand disappointments for the big guy, this presence in the final is saving.


Félix Auger-Aliassime and Andrey Rublev after the match

Even if his detractors will not hesitate to return to the charge with the argument of the three withdrawals as if it were a “+4” card at UNO, the last few days have been formative and revealing for Auger-Aliassime .

He defeated Casper Ruud, fifth seed and clay court specialist, in two sets, in addition to giving Rublev, a two-time Masters 1000 champion on the surface, a hard time in the final.

To a certain extent, the difference between him and Rublev was marked. Whether in terms of talent – ​​Rublev will climb to sixth place on Monday –, pace – he had just beaten Taylor Fritz and Carlos Alcaraz – or experience – he is four years and ten titles older than Auger-Aliassime.

But the Quebecer is on the right track. One or two strokes of luck, an unexpected final, but above all the certainty that he can always compete with the best players in the world.

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