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Tales of Tournaments: Canadian teenagers shine at Miami Open (2019)

Apr 02, 2020
written by: Tennis Canada
written by: Tennis Canada

Welcome to Tales of Tournaments, a new TennisCanada.com series throwing it back to some of the most iconic pro tournament runs in Canadian tennis history. Remember when Canadian teen prodigies Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov both reached the semi-finals of the Miami Open? We do. Here’s how it went…

Let’s rewind to roughly a year ago today. If you’re a Canadian tennis fan, you were probably gearing up to watch two superstar teenagers battle for spots in the Miami Open singles final.

And since we can’t watch tennis this year in Miami (or anywhere else right now, for that matter) – we thought why not relive one of the finest tournaments in the young careers of Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime?

shapovalov and auger-aliassime

Flashback to March 18, 2019. Shapovalov, just shy of his 20th birthday (on April 15th) had already played in seven singles tournaments in 2019, including Indian Wells just a few weeks before.

Coming off two straight quarter-final losses in Montpellier, France and Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Shapo found himself ranked 24th heading into Indian Wells. After some impressive victories in the Palm Desert, including over former World No. 3 Marin Cilic, he bowed out to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-final.

If you’re keeping track, that’s three quarters appearances in four tournaments for the young Canadian in 2019. But in Miami, he’d go further than that.

Meanwhile, Auger-Aliassime faced a similar hectic start to the 2019 season with eight tournaments under his belt before the end of March. His highlight was on the clay courts in Rio de Janeiro in February; FAA marched all the way to his first tour-level final, dropping just one set along the way before being defeated by Serbian Laslo Dere.

While Shapovalov saw his Indian Wells run come to an end to Hurkacz, Auger-Aliassime bowed out to Yoshihito Nishioka a round before.

California ✈️ Florida

miami open 2019
Photo: Mauricio Paiz

After flying from Indian Wells, California to Miami, Florida (Hard Rock Stadium pictured above), neither the weather nor the hard courts had changed.

But something inside two Canadian teenagers had. They both believed they could make a run at the Masters 1000 event. On March 18, Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime both found themselves up ranking spots; Shapo up to 23, FAA to 57.

While Shapovalov had earned himself a spot in the main draw of the tournament, 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime’s past successful results weren’t enough to get him out of the qualifying round.

But it was no big deal for the Montreal native. As the second qualifier, he defeated Italians Luca Vanni and Paolo Lorenzi to book a spot in the main draw alongside Shapovalov and Milos Raonic.

After getting a bye in the first round and a walkover in the second, 12th seeded Raonic played his first match in the third round, falling to 14th ranked Kyle Edmund in straight sets.

Week one perfect for teens

The Miami Open joins the BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells) as the “Sunshine Double” – a series of two consecutive hard-court tournaments that are the only events beside the four Grand Slams that extend beyond eight days. They’re also two of the largest outside the majors.

Basically, anyone who does well at these tournaments becomes known across the tennis world.

We can’t forget Bianca Andreescu winning it all at the 2019 BNP Paribas Open, making her an instant household name across tennis. Yes, winning the US Open later in the year definitely didn’t hurt either!

Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime looked to do the same in Miami, but first, they needed to make it out of the first week.

FAA played some excellent tennis to do his part and advance to week two; after defeating fellow qualifier Casper Ruud in three sets, he dispatched 29th seed Marton Fucsovics in a similar three set marathon in round two. He was on a collision course to play 3rd seed Dominic Thiem in the third round, but after a massive upset from Hurkacz, it was the Canadian and the Pole who squared off in round three.

While Hurkacz defeated Shapo in California, Auger-Aliassime got the better of him in Florida.

With five straight tournament wins under his belt, FAA showed veteran’s composure taking out No. 17 Nikoloz Basilashvili to earn a spot in his first ever Masters 1000 quarter-final. He also became the second qualifier in 20 years to do so.

Shapovalov’s first week in Miami began with a bye, but got real difficult real quick after that. He beat brit Daniel Evans in the second round after dropping the first set, before inching past Andrey Rublev in straight sets in round three. It was a great win for Shapovalov, as Rublev was playing excellent tennis then – and now, sitting as the World No. 14 as of March, 2020.

The fourth round was a real test with Stefanos Tsitsipas on the other end of the net. The current World No. 6 was ranked 8th at the tournament, and was coming off a semi-final appearance at the Australian Open just two months before. He also beat Roger Federer during that run.

But the Greek was not enough for the young Canadian in March of 2019, as Shapovalov inched by his opponent in a third-set tiebreak, winning 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) to join his buddy Auger-Aliassime in the final eight.

“I knew Stefanos was going to be a tough match,” Shapovalov said after. “I was ready for a long battle and, sure enough, it went the distance. I’m just happy with the way I controlled myself.”

Quality quarters, sullen semis

What a run. Just making it to a Masters 1000 quarter-final is an incredible story for two Canadians who aren’t yet 20.

Even more impressive is that it was the first time since 2013 that two Canadians had reached the quarter-finals or better in a Masters 1000 event — Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil did it at the Rogers Cup that year.

But there was more magic to come in Miami.

Considering Roger Federer (4), Kevin Anderson (6) and John Isner (7) all advanced to the last eight, the draws of Borna Coric (11) for Auger-Aliassime and Frances Tiafoe (28) for Shapovalov were very favourable.

And it showed. FAA, after two qualifying wins and four more in the main draw, beat Coric handily, 7-6 (3), 6-2. Shapovalov bounced back from losing the first set tiebreak to win his match in three sets.

How phenomenal would it have been to say that two Canadian teens advanced to the final of a Masters 1000? How phenomenal is it to even say that two Canadians had a chance?

Unfortunately, both players ran into veterans at the top of their games in the semi-final round. Auger-Aliassime gave Isner all he could handle in the semis; he lost two nail-biting tiebreak sets – leading by a break in each but failing to consolidate his leads – to bow out in the final four.

For Shapovalov, the man on the other side of the net needed no introduction. It was 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer that defeated the Canadian southpaw in straight sets before beating Isner in similar fashion to claim the Miami Open crown for the fourth time.

What a fantastic tournament for the young Canadians. You could call it a coming out tourney for Auger-Aliassime; today he’s ranked 20th, over 30 spots higher than when the 2019 Miami Open began.

For Shapovalov, it was another opportunity to prove that he can play against some of the best tennis players in the world and win. Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do against Roger Federer.

We didn’t get tennis in Miami in 2020, but we’ll be eagerly awaiting the Canadians returning to the sunshine in 2021. If last year was any indication, anything can happen.