By Brenda Parry
Being a fan of both players, I was really looking forward to the match between the Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, the ninth seed, and Dan Evans, the 24th seed and last British man standing in the singles draw.
Having both started the season in impressive form, the two players could not have reached the third round of the Australian Open in more different ways. Evans enjoyed a comfortable straight-set win in the first round against David Goffin followed by a walkover handed to him by Arthur Rinderknech in the second round. Auger-Aliassime needed a combined total of just over eight hours, to reach the last 32, coming from two sets to one down to beat Emil Ruusuvuori in five sets and fighting past Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in four closely fought (tie-break) sets.
The match got underway as the sun began to set on the John Cain Arena in the late afternoon and a shadow lengthened across the court, making it difficult to see the ball at times. Evans appeared rattled at the start of the match by the sound of a live band which was playing outside the arena but this seemingly channelled his focus and he was the first to create opportunities to break, in the fifth and ninth games. Auger-Aliassime kept his composure however and managed to serve his way out of difficulty. He subsequently converted his first break point when Evans serving to stay in the first set at 4-5 snatched at a forehand drive volley and the ball landed in the net.
As the music faded outside the arena, Evans’ serve and backhand slice deserted him and more unforced errors crept into his game. Still reeling from the loss of the first set, he double-faulted twice in his opening service game of the second set. From that moment on, and with his confidence growing, Auger-Aliassime proved to be stronger in every area. He served better, returned effectively and essentially knew how to win the points at key moments. The momentum having shifted, the match quickly slipped away from Evans, who only won two more games, and there was a degree of inevitability as he put the ball long on match point.
The 21-year-old Canadian, who is in the fourth round of the Australian Open for a second straight year, has been making strides in the last year and led Team Canada to the ATP Cup title at the beginning of this year. He will face 33-year old Marin Čilić, who upset the fifth seed Andrey Rublev in four sets (7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 6-3) in the last 16.
“I think I’m just more relaxed and more composed and have better self-confidence that I can go into second week, I can go into quarters or more,” Auger-Aliassime said following his victory today.
Let’s wait and see!