Fritz Garners Winner-Takes-All Clash Over Auger-Aliassime To Move On In Turin

Taylor Fritz (photo: Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

As Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz walked out onto the Centre Court at Pala Alpitour to play their final Green Group round-robin match at the Nitto ATP Finals Thursday night in Turin, Italy, it was win and advance mentality for both first-time participants.

The No. 5 seed Auger-Aliassime from Canada and eighth-seeded Fritz of the United States looked ready for the long haul. Each arrived with similar 1-1 Turin win-loss records – a win over top seed Rafael Nadal and a loss to No. 3 seed Casper Ruud, who earlier in the day fell to Nadal, 7-5, 7-5, but still advanced to the semifinals with a 2-1 mark.

As it happened, Fritz rose to the occasion and won the winner-take-all match over Auger-Aliassime, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-2, to reach the semifinals of the year-end finale. He became the first American since Jack Sock in 2017 to reach the last four of the ATP Finals.

The 25-year-old Southern California native won 88 percent (49 of 56) of his first-serve points on the fast indoor conditions, struck 32 winners and overcame 21 unforced errors to outpoint Auger-Aliassime 106-86. He saved all three break points he faced – all of them coming in the second set – and broke his 22-year-old foe twice, both times in the final set.

“I needed to serve well the whole time, I knew that,” Fritz said in his on-court interview after securing his 45th tour-level victory of the season. “It was frustrating throughout the match when so many points I was one away from break point. So many times at 15-30, 0-30 when I was returning, I got myself in the points and kept losing the points. I just tried to stay patient and not get frustrated and then I capitalized when I got the chances.”

Fritz pulled through the 59-minute opening set on the strength of his powerful serve. He won 85 percent (28 of 33) of his service points and did not face any break points. In the first-set tie-break, Fritz gained four mini-breaks against Auger-Aliassime and made the Canadian pay for each of his mistakes, winning the tie-break 7-4.

Then, on the brink of elimination, Auger-Aliassime came up huge in the second set and won a tie-break 7-5 to send the match to a decider. He won all but two first-serve points (19 of 21) and faced no break points on his serve. In the tie-break, a costly double-fault by Fritz serving at 4-2 gave Auger-Aliassime the lifeline he needed and he won five of the next six points to remain alive.

Later, on serve at 3-2 in the final set, Fritz finally gained his first break point against Auger-Aliassime after two-and-a-half hours of play, but was stymied in his attempt to break the Canadian. Fritz gained two more break points in the sixth game but each time Auger-Aliassime gained a deuce point during the game. Fritz remained persistent as he gained a fourth break point and this time made it stand up in the eight-minute, 12-point tussle. That’s because Auger-Aliassime hit a fifth-shot forehand wide, which enabled Fritz to finally break for the first time in the match to go ahead 4-2.

Next, Fritz consolidated the break with a love hold to go up 5-2 – and, finally, the American had a deep control of the match. Soon, Fritz gained a match point at 15-40 after two hours and 44 minutes, and won when Auger-Aliassime sent a cross-court backhand wide right that halted one last three-shot skirmish.

A relieved but happy Fritz had survived a 192-point tug-of-war with Auger-Aliassime to win and advance against Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s semifinal round. The triumph improved his career head-to-head versus Auger-Aliassime to 2-0. Meanwhile, the season is over for the talented World No. 6 from Montreal, who enjoyed a break-through year after lifting four trophies – in Rotterdam, Florence, Antwerp and Basel – and ended with an impressive 57-27 record, including a 16-match winning streak. He topped the Tour with most hard-court victories (42) and most indoor wins (28).

When Fritz, a three-time title winner on the Tour this season (Indian Wells, Eastbourne, Tokyo) was asked what it meant making the last four in his first trip to Turin, he replied: “It is huge. From possibly not even qualifying to now be in the semis feels great. I felt like I was going to play well here. I feel that I always play my best tennis against the best players.”

Ram and Salisbury go undefeated to win Red Group doubles

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury have had their eyes on the big prize all week at the Nitto ATP Finals. After fending off the charge of upset-minded No. 3 seeds Marcelo Arevalo-Gonzalez and Jean-Julien Rojer Thursday evening, winning 3-6, 7-6 (4), 10-5, the American-British team advanced undefeated (3-0) from the Red Group into this weekend’s semifinal knockout round. Last year, they finished runners-up. This year, they hope to go a step further and win the title in their fourth appearance at the year-end event.

The second-seeded Ram and Salisbury, who came into this week having won one major (US Open) and two ATP Masters 1000s (Monte Carlo and Cincinnati) this season, won six of eight sets and a total of 37 of 68 games during group play.

Against the Salvadoran-Dutch combo, the hard-serving Ram and Salisbury needing to just win one set to move on combined for seven aces and hit 28 winners while making just eight unforced errors. They outpointed their opponents 71-66 during the one-hour, 42-minute clash inside Pala Alpitour to improve to 35-14.

“It was pretty tense,” said Ram, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “It is not often that you are in those kinds of situations where you just need to win a set to advance. I think we did a really good job handling it and got better as the match went on.”

Arevalo-Gonzalez and Rojer needed to pull off a straight set win to advance, and for a while it looked as if they were going to pull off the upset. However, the eight-time tour-level titlists Ram and Salisbury showed more consistency with the match on the line, winning both the second-set tie-break and taking a 6-1 lead in match tie-break before winning to move on.

“There was a lot of pressure,” Salisbury added. “In some ways it is almost better that you know you have to win the match. Then you just go out and win. I thought they played really well. We lost the first set. But we knew we had to get back at it. We weren’t playing our best tennis, but we fought hard and we are happy with how we managed to get through it.”

Also, advancing from the Red Group is Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain and Harri Heliovaara of Finland, who went 2-1, losing only to Ram and Salisbury.

Thursday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Friday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

Around the Nitto ATP Finals

The Australian government this week confirmed that nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic has received a visa to compete in the upcoming 2023 Australian Open, which begins January 16 in Melbourne. This comes a year after he was deported over his stance against the COVID-19 vaccination.

Immigration Minister Andrew Giles confirmed he approved the former World No. 1 Djokovic’s application to revoke the cancellation of a potential re-entry ban of up to three years because the ground for canceling the visa no longer existed. Since the 2022 Australian Open, Australia has lifted strict rules for unvaccinated travelers.

On Thursday, during his post-match press conference, reigning Australian Open men’s champion Rafael Nadal was asked about the matter. He said:

“That’s the best news possible, especially knowing that now the virus is more under control seems – around the world. So why not? Happy for him. Happy for the tournament. Happy for the fans. That’s it.”

By the numbers

Novak Djokovic, who has won the Nitto ATP Finals singles title five times, including four straight (2012-15), has qualified for the semifinal stage in 11 of the 15 years he has competed in the year-end event.

“Quotable …”

“At the end, the personal satisfaction is more important than any title. That’s how it is. If I don’t try my best, if I don’t put the best attitude in every single moment, then I will not be able to be back home and stay happy and be calm with myself.”

– Top seed Rafael Nadal, who was eliminated from advancing out of group play after going 1-2, after beating No. 3 seed Casper Ruud to conclude his 2022 season with a victory.