LYON, May 25, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
When 28th-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime walked out on Court Central at Parc de la Tete d’Or to face No. 51 Benoit Paire of France for the first time in his young career during Saturday’s final of the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon, he looked to become the youngest to win an ATP Tour final since Kei Nishikori won the Delray Beach title as an 18-year-old in 2008. He really had nothing to lose. After all, the 18-year-old Canadian will be the No. 25 seed at Roland Garros – and there aren’t many players who can say they were seeded in just their second Grand Slam draw appearance.
Instead, Paire denied Auger-Aliassime his first ATP Tour title. The 30-year-old Frenchman was in form and on his game as he beat the #NextGenATP rising star from Montréal, 6-4, 6-3, in one hour and 20 minutes, much to the delight of the French fans who had Paire’s back from start to finish. It was his second ATP Tour title win of the year and second in two months after winning Marrakech last month.
Paire fired seven aces, won 72 percent (34 of 47) of his service points and broke Auger-Aliassime’s serve four of nine times. He outpointed the Canadian 66-53 en route to winning his third career ATP Tour title.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) 25. Mai 2019
Auger-Aliassime advanced to his second ATP Tour final of the season after gaining a hard-fought win over top-seed Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, on Friday while Paire moved into the final with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 46 Taylor Fritz of the United States. After winning back-to-back ATP Challenger Tour events in Lyon each of the past two years, it seemed fitting that Auger-Aliassime would go after his first tour-level title in this French city, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“I had a good week even though it didn’t end the way I wanted, not playing the way I wanted or being physically well,” said Auger-Aliassime, as quoted by the ATP Tour website. His career mark on clay dropped to 15-12. “There’s disappointment because these finals don’t come around often but there’s a lot of positives to take from that week. Hopefully I give myself other chances for titles.”
Paire wasted little time and broke Auger-Aliassime in the third game of the opening set, then consolidated it with a quick hold. He looked solid in winning points on his first serve and was consistent in hitting his returns. Paire won the first set on his second set-point opportunity with a well-disguised backhanded drop shot. Everything seemed to be going his way.
Immediately, Paire broke Auger-Aliassime at the beginning of the second set, but was broken back at 2-all. However, Auger-Aliassime was unable to consolidate the break as Paire broke and held for a commanding 4-2 lead. Soon, it was over as the Frenchman won on his first match-point chance when Auger-Aliassime hit a backhand half volley long.
Paire displayed a great sense of sportsmanship at the end as he shared a warm handshake and conversation with Auger-Aliassime as the two walked off the court together.
Looking back, Paire played solidly throughout the entire tournament – compiling wins over Mackenzie McDonald, Pablo Cuevas, Denis Shapovalov and Fritz – and his level of play didn’t waver throughout the final. He improved his record on clay to 11-4 this year.
With his victory, Paire became the sixth player to earn two ATP Tour titles this year. He joins Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Cristian Garin, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas as two-time winners this season.
“I think I played well already in Marrakech. I started the season a little bit bad with some injuries … so it was not easy at the beginning,” said Paire, who turned pro 10 years before Auger-Aliassime in 2007. “But I feel much better now. I feel good on court, I feel very confident. When you feel confident, you can win a lot of matches against good players.”
Paire will face No. 81 Marius Copil of Romania in his first-round match at the French Open. “I expect a lot for Roland Garros now,” he said. “(I want to) win a lot of matches. I don’t know how many … if physically I feel 100 percent, I hope I can go to the second week because for a Slam it would be my first time in Paris, so that’s my goal and we will see if I could do it.”
Dodig/Roger-Vasselin win doubles title
The Croatian-French duo of Ivan Dodig and Edouard Roger-Vasselin saved eight of eight break points it faced to beat Ken Skupski and Neal Skupski of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-3, in the 70-minute doubles final. Dodig and Roger-Vasselin, who did not drop a set in Lyon this week, have won two ATP Tour titles in France since their team debut at the Sydney International in January. Their first came at the Open Sud de France in February.