Félix Auger-Aliassime was unable to overcome his demons on Saturday on clay in Madrid. In fact, he was his own enemy. Upon his return to play, the Quebecer lost in three sets of 6-2, 3-6 and 7-6 (5) to Dušan Lajović.
Auger-Aliassime was back in action, more than a month after his last game in Miami. Bothered by knee problems, the ninth player in the world had an appointment with Lajović for his first duel.
A tricky match for the right-hander, for three reasons. First, he had lost his two previous clashes against the Serb. The latter had just won the Banja Luka tournament by beating Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev. Then, Auger-Aliassime struggled at the start of the tournament this season. Unconvincing since January, the 22-year-old is struggling to get up and running quickly. Finally, clay represented an interesting challenge for a return to the game, given its complexity, its adaptation and the difficulties that this surface poses for already sore joints.
To sum up the meeting, we must project ourselves to the last decisive game of the match. It alone illustrates the entire meeting and its turn.
The two attackers split the first two sets. They caused an ultimate battle by going 6-6 unbroken.
Lajović had priority on serve. He bombarded his opponent, overwhelmed and overtaken by the Serb’s lethal slaps. It was 5-0. The Quebecer was in the cables. His opponent was knocking him down. At the same time, Auger-Aliassime did not help himself, appearing fragile and shaken.
The fact remains that he was able to repel his opponent thanks to two points necessary for his survival, in particular thanks to two delights in the service. Lajović came back stronger, but afterwards, due to a stunning display of character, Auger-Aliassime saved his third, fourth and fifth match points of the encounter. Lajović’s last parallel forehand, however, was fatal.
The match also went like this.
The Quebecer was broken in the first game. It was to wonder, at that time, if the troubles he had experienced on serve during the Sunshine Double (Indian Wells and Miami) were going to come back to haunt him on clay. Two games later, he was broken again. It was 3-0 and Lajović’s body had yet to shed a sweat. In 35 short minutes, the sleeve was folded. However, we must give back to Lajović what belongs to Lajović. His anticipation game limited Auger-Aliassime and his powerful strikes disarmed him.
On the other hand, Auger-Aliassime was only a shadow of himself. His knee seemed to hold up, but his precision and application on strikes faltered.
He recovered superbly, however, in the following round. The seventh seed of the tournament was whole. Even if the Serb made him work from left to right, Auger-Aliassime had the answer to everything. The strikes were heavy on each side and the fact that FAA was able to resist, despite the pain, remains good news in the short term.
Despite all his determination, and a questionable call from the official about his time on serve late in the third set that seemed to distract Auger-Aliassime, the latter was uneven from start to finish.
The Quebecer dominated his opponent in winning shots, 37, but he also committed more unforced errors, 40.
By dint of wanting too much to provoke the perfect game, which the 40th player in the world forced his opponent to do, Auger-Aliassime ended up getting burned.
We must also mention the service, the weapon of choice of the big guy of 1.93 m. In this regard, he too was too unequal, with 12 aces, but 11 double faults.
This kind of performance will inevitably occur when only 57% of first serves are successful. Especially when the second-ball win ratio drops to 37%.
The good news for Auger-Aliassime is that he will have time to make the necessary corrections for the Roland-Garros tournament. We can probably speak of a mistake, but it would have been interesting to see him advance in the tournament to arrive on time, grounded and confident at the Porte d’Auteuil.