Khachanov Plays Spoiler On Auger-Aliassime’s Birthday Party At Rogers Cup

MONTREAL, August 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Felix Auger-Aliassime, who turned 19 on Thursday and shares a birthday with Roger Federer, didn’t have anything planned for his birthday except, well, play tennis. But he admitted earlier this week he wouldn’t mind a birthday cake like the Swiss star had in Montreal years ago at the Rogers Cup.

“I have a memory when I was a kid that there was a cake for Federer, because it was his birthday,” said Auger-Aliassime, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It’s the same date for me. I thought, ‘Well, I would love to play on centre court and have a cake on centre court.’ When you’re eight years old, it seems incredible to get a cake on centre court.”

On Thursday afternoon in the Masters 1000 event, in front of a packed house of 12,000 that filled IGA Stadium at Jarry Park, the 21st-ranked native of Montreal faced sixth seed Karen Khachanov in their first career meeting. Throughout the two hour and 50 minute match, there were plenty of cheers of “Let’s go Felix.” The crowd was definitely behind their hometown hero. They even sang “Happy Birthday” to him.

However, in the end, things didn’t quite turn out the way Auger-Aliassime wished for as Khachanov pulled out a 6-7 (7) 7-5, 6-3 win. The match was punctuated by 12 service breaks, and Auger-Aliassime committed 12 double faults that overcame his 10 service aces.

“Whether it is my birthday or not, it doesn’t change the preparation for my match,” Auger-Aliassime said after advancing over No. 17 seed and Canadian No. 1 Milos Raonic by retirement Wednesday night. “Of course, it would be a beautiful gift for me to be able to go to the quarterfinals.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be for Auger-Aliassime on his special day.

The eighth-ranked Khachanov, 23, came into his match against the Canadian #NextGenATP star – his third during the North American summer hard court swing – trying to build upon his three-set victory over Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday. It was his first win over the three-time Grand Slam champion after losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Washington last week. Khachanov reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open and is pursuing his second Masters 1000 title after beating Novak Djokovic to win the Rolex Paris Masters last November.

“Honestly, it was a roller coaster today. Not many matches have been played like that,” Khachanov said after his win. “Today was tough conditions, really windy. I think both of us were struggling to take our serves, which are pretty powerful normally. I just had to win playing a little bit ugly.”

Khachanov’s victory over Auger-Aliassime advanced him to his fourth Masters 1000 quarterfinal on Friday where he will face third seed Alexander Zverev.

“Whether I’m playing in a 250, 500 or Masters 1000, my preparations don’t change,” Khachanov told Tennis TourTalk last week at the Citi Open. “Wherever I come, I always try to do my best. I prepare the same way. When you switch surfaces, such as after grass, it’s always the toughest. … Once you get a few matches, you feel more confident.”

Zverev seeks revenge against Basilashvili

No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev lifted the Rogers Cup trophy when the Masters 1000 was last held in Montreal in 2017. On Thursday, he sought revenge against 13th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili after the Georgian won their semifinal meeting in Hamburg, Zverev’s birthplace, en route to winning the Hamburg European Open clay-court event last month. This time, it was Zverev who prevailed, 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (5), to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal of the season.

While Zverev fired 15 aces, he committed 14 double faults and his serve was broken five times by Basilashvili. Only one point separated the two (117-116) at the end of their two hour and 44 minute match.

Thiem advances to face Medvedev

Second seed Dominic Thiem saved all nine break points he faced against Marin Cilic – four in the first set and five in the second set – and won 7-6 (7), 6-4 in one hour and 53 minutes over the No. 14 seed.

After his win, which was his sixth straight, Thiem said, “I beat two amazing players. I’ve really had a great transition from good confidence in the European summer. That’s also my first quarterfinals here. The match today was unreal because I saved nine out of nine break points, which doesn’t happen that often.” Thiem took out Canadian #NextGenATP star Denis Shapovalov on Wednesday.

Next, Thiem will face eighth seed Daniil Medvedev, who advanced over Cristian Garin, 6-3, 6-3, in a tidy 69 minutes. Both Top 10 players are in pursuit of finishing in the final eight to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in November. Thiem is 2-0 lifetime against Medvedev.

“It’s going to be a very difficult match like the last two times,” said Medvedev, who was a finalist at Washington last week. “I know he’s in good shape right now. When he plays like this, he’s difficult to beat. So, I’ll consider this match as a test. Am I able to beat players that are in good shape like he is right now and like him? That will be a good test.”

Nadal breaks Federer record with win

World No. 2 and top seed Rafael Nadal defeated Guido Pella, 6-3, 6-4, to win his 379th ATP Masters 1000 match, which broke a tie with Roger Federer for the all-time lead.

While Nadal didn’t particular enjoy the windy conditions playing at night, he told the ATP Tour website that he thrived on the mental challenge provided by the conditions.

“(It was) a tough day in terms of wind. But we are used to playing like this. When we play on outdoor courts, that’s part of the game, too. Of course it is better to play without this kind of wind,” said Nadal.

“At the same time, it is beautiful to play under tough conditions because then the player who has different options to play has better chances to survive these kind of days. It’s about adapting and being focused mentally. Of course, I prefer to play without these conditions, but in some way I enjoy.”

Nadal improved his lifetime Rogers Cup win-loss record to 36-8 and next will oppose seventh seed Fabio Fognini, who beat No. 69 Adrian Mannarino, 6-2, 7-5. Although Nadal is 11-4 in his career head-to-head against Fognini, the Italian beat him in straight sets at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters earlier this season.

Around the Rogers Cup

Friday’s last quarterfinal matchup was decided late Thursday evening as No. 16 seed Gaël Monfils beat 48th-ranked alternate Hubert Hurkacz, 6-4, 6-0, in 69 minutes, while No. 10 seed Roberto Bautista Agut advanced over No. 66 Richard Gasquet in the fifth lifetime head-to-head and second in 2019, 7-5, 7-5. Bautista beat Gasquet on grass at Halle earlier this season and had won three of their first four meetings.

By the numbers

The Citi Open/Rogers Cup back-to-back is not an easy one to master at the beginning of the North American hard court season. Few succeed and only eighth seed Daniil Medvedev, who has the most hard-court match wins this year with 23, remains in the draw from the four semifinalists last week in Washington. (Nick Kyrgios, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Peter Gojowczyk all lost their Montreal openers.)