Felix Auger-Aliassime hits forehand at 2022 Australian Open

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

The early rounds of the 2022 Australian Open have been anything but smooth sailing for Félix Auger-Aliassime, but the Canadian is finding ways to win.

Auger-Aliassime advanced to the third round in Melbourne on Thursday with a hard-fought 4-set win, all tiebreaks, over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

The ninth seed had his hands full with some fearless hitting from the Spaniard, who threw everything at the Canadian for four hours and 23 minutes. But when the pressure was at its highest, Auger-Aliassime managed to win the key points, eventually emerging with a 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 7-6(4) victory.

Despite 81 unforced errors, Auger-Aliassime was able to serve his way to victory courtesy of 26 aces, seven of nine break points saved, and an average first serve speed just under 200 km/h. The Canadian also had 52 winners to his opponent’s 47, although Davidovich Fokina actually won more total points, 162 to 152.

Auger-Aliassime is through to the third round of the Australian Open for the second year in a row, having reached the fourth round last year. The Canadian has reached at least the quarter-finals in his last two major appearances.

It took some time for Auger-Aliassime to find his footing in the match, as he needed nine minutes to hold serve in the opening game and was broken in the fifth, eventually going down 2-4.

However, Davidovich Fokina, who came out firing on all cylinders, dropped his level, allowing Auger-Aliassime to get the break back and level the set at 4-all.

The first set tiebreak was all about momentum swings, as the Canadian started by going up 3-0, only to lose four straight points. He responded with a four-point run of his own to take the breaker 7-4.

After a second set where neither player had a break point, Auger-Aliassime once again took a 3-0 lead in the tiebreak. But this time the wheels came off, as he lost seven of the next eight points, including four straight unforced errors from 4-2 up, to drop the tiebreak and allow Davidovich Fokina to level the match.

Both men managed to apply more pressure on return in the third set, with the Canadian digging out of a 15-40 hole at 3-all. But neither managed a break and yet another tiebreak was required.

For the third time in a row, Auger-Aliassime got an immediate minibreak and this time did not relinquish the lead, going up 6-2. He had a bit of trouble closing out the tiebreak, but drew an error from the Spaniard on his fourth set point to take a two sets to one lead.

Early in the fourth set, Davidovich Fokina took advantage of a sloppy service game from Auger-Aliassime to grab the first break of serve in over three hours, since midway through the opening set, but the Canadian responded by breaking back in the very next game.

Just like the previous three sets, the fourth went to a tiebreak. This time, it was not until late that the ninth seed pulled away, courtesy of back-to-back errors from Davidovich Fokina at 4-3 to give Auger-Aliassime triple match point. On the second time of asking, the Canadian brought the epic to an end with an incredible lunging volley winner.

Standing between Auger-Aliassime and a return to the last sixteen at the Australian Open is 24th seed Dan Evans. The pair have met once before, almost exactly a year ago, also in Melbourne in the final of the Murray River Open, which Evans won in straight sets.

Dabrowski cruises through opener

Canada’s female contingent finally got a win at the Australian Open on Thursday as Gabriela Dabrowski picked up an easy win in her first-round doubles match.

Dabrowski and partner Giuliana Olmos, the sixth seeds in Melbourne, put on a serving clinic, never facing a break point on their way to a 6-2, 6-3 win over Clara Burel and Camila Osorio.

The Canadian-Mexican pair only lost 11 total points on their serve, winning 80 percent of first serve points and 71 percent of their second serves. They converted three of their own break points on their way to a 59-minute win.

The win was a good bounce-back for Dabrowski and Olmos, who lost in the first round of their first two events in 2022. This is the second stint together for the Canadian and Mexican, having played one event together in 2021, reaching the semi-finals of Miami. Olmos played most of 2021 with another Canadian, Sharon Fichman.

It did not take long for the sixth seeds to take control of the match, reaching break point in the second game of the match and then breaking serve in fourth for a 3-1 lead. Once ahead, they never looked back, adding a second break to take the opening set.

The second set was a little closer, with Burel and Osorio hanging in for the first four games. But from 2-all, Dabrowski and Olmos took over, winning four of the last five games to book their place in the second round.

Dabrowski is the only Canadian woman left in the Australian Open after both Leylah Annie Fernandez and Rebecca Marino were eliminated in the first round of singles. Fernandez also lost in the first round of the doubles.