Auger-Aliassime Serves Big In Turin With First Career Win Over Nadal

Felix Auger-Aliassime (photo: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 15, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Felix Auger-Aliassime served big – 15 aces – and did plenty of damage with his forehand, which contributed toward striking 32 winners in garnering his first career victory over Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 6-4, at the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin, Italy Tuesday afternoon.

The No. 5 seed Auger-Aliassime of Canada rebounded nicely after his opening 7-6 (4), 6-4 loss to Casper Ruud on Sunday and handed the 36-year-old Spaniard his fourth straight defeat. He won 81 percent (39 or 48) of his first-serve points and converted two of four break points to level his win-loss record in the Green Group to 1-1 at Pala Alpitour. It was Auger-Aliassime’s first success against Nadal in three career meetings.

“I think having one match here, I got used to the conditions on Centre Court,” the sixth-ranked Canadian said in his on-court interview after his triumph. “It helped me a lot. I felt my game was better today. My serve was great and return and backhand was much better. I was hitting it with more consistency and quality. When I am playing like this, I have proven I can compete and beat some of the best players in the world.”

Although the top-seeded Nadal started the match well, he was unable to convert any of the five break points he had against Auger-Aliassime. The World No. 2, who placed only 59 percent of his first serves in play, committed 18 unforced errors that overshadowed his 13 winners. The No. 5 seed Auger-Aliassime outpointed Nadal, 70-59.

The 22-year-old Auger-Aliassime will play No. 8 seed Taylor Fritz of the United States in his final group play match on Thursday. Fritz (1-0) faces No. 3 seed Ruud (1-0) from Norway Tuesday evening.

“I am one win, one loss now. If I can get two wins, hopefully I can get through. So, let’s see how it goes,” Auger-Aliassime said. “They will play it out tonight and I will be ready for Taylor in two days. It won’t be easy. He has been playing really good this year and these conditions are perfect for him.

“I will use the experience of Toni [Nadal] in these situations. He has been a great help to me. I have a ton of respect for him and his family. It is special to play Rafa with Toni here, but at the same time we are competitors, and we try our best.”

Meanwhile, despite starting 0-2 after losing 7-6 (3), 6-1 to Fritz in his opening match on Sunday, Nadal has not been eliminated in his quest for year-end No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings – but his chances are bleak. If Ruud takes a set against Fritz, Nadal will be eliminated from advancing to the Turin semifinals and World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz will clinch the year-end No. 1.

“I don’t think I forgot how to play tennis, how to be strong  enough mentally,” Nadal said during his press conference. “I just need to recover all these positive feelings and all this confidence and all this strong mentality that I need to be at the level that I want to be.

“I don’t know if I’m going to reach that level again. But what I don’t have any doubt  is that I [am] going to die for it.”

Arevalo and Rojer remain hopeful of advancing

Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez of El Salvador and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands remained alive in the Red Group doubles after defeating No. 7 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 10-7, Tuesday afternoon.

The third seeds won the 87-minute match after losing their opener on Sunday against No. 6 seeds Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain.

“[The fast start] was one of the keys to the match,” Rojer said. “We obviously lost our first-round match, and as everyone knows, matches are difficult to win here. Everybody obviously plays so well, and the margins are so small. We wanted to come off to an aggressive start. That doesn’t always mean you’re going to do it, but I think that helped us a lot because then we could settle into the match.

“We used some other plays and tried some other things when we were far ahead in the first set that we thought could come in handy later in the match, so that was one of the keys to the match, to try to get a fast start if we could. We did, and again, just small margins out there. Those guys are tough, righty-lefty, both great players, just really happy to come through.”

Arevalo-Gonzalez and Rojer will face undefeated No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain in their final group play match on Thursday. The American-British duo beat Heliovaara and Glasspool, 7-5, 6-4, Tuesday evening to improve to 2-0. It was the 400th career tour-level doubles victory for Ram.

Rojer is chasing after his second Nitto ATP Finals title after winning the 2015 crown in London with Horia Tecau of Romania. Arevalo-Gonzalez is the first player from a Central American country to compete in singles or doubles in the tournament’s 53-year history.

Tuesday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Wednesday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play