Auger-Aliassime In Fine Form At Roland-Garros, Overpowers Shelton

Felix Auger-Aliassime (photo: Jürgen Hasenkopf)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 1, 2004 (by Michael Dickens)

Felix Auger-Aliassime came ready to play when his Roland-Garros rain-suspended third-round match against Ben Shelton resumed under the closed roof of Court Suzanne-Lenglen on Saturday.

What a difference a day made.

By the end of the first set, as rain continued to wreak havoc on play outside, there was no doubt that the 21st-seeded Canadian was going to be the winner. He won 13 of the final 16 games against the No. 15 seed Shelton of the United States and won 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 in an hour and 50 minutes. He played an almost perfect match in his first meeting with Shelton.

Auger-Aliassime struck 28 winners and faced no break points on his serve. He took advantage of a sub-par performance by Shelton, who committed 36 unforced errors. Auger-Aliassime outpointed his opponent 92-62.

“For me today the things that were in my control I did really well,” Auger-Aliassime said afterward. “I am pleased with how I handled the match and gave him difficulty. I was able to put a lot of returns in and force his targets on first serve. He was not getting as many free points on that serve that he usually gets, so we had to engage in a rally every time and I think that paid off as the match went on.”

The two talented North Americans began their tussle Friday evening outdoors on Court 7 but by 9:15 p.m. Paris Time, rain suspended play for the evening with Auger-Aliassime leading 5-4.

On Saturday, the Canadian No. 1 who was playing in his fifth Roland-Garros main draw and had reached the third round for the second time, held serve to win the first set and took off from there. Now he’s equaled his best result in Paris.

Next, Auger-Aliassime will face World No. 3 and third seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain on Sunday afternoon. He leads his career head-to-head against the Spaniard 3-2.

Sabalenka wins battle of the besties

Saturday’s third-round meeting between No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and best friend Paula Badosa of Spain, ranked 139th – frenemies for the day – had been a much-discussed topic on social media.

When they met on Court Philippe-Chatrier with the roof closed, it was the World No. 2 Sabalenka who prevailed, 7-5, 6-1, in 77 minutes in a hard-hitting battle to advance to the fourth round against No. 22 seed Emma Navarro, who edged No. 14 seed Madison Keys, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), in an all-American battle on Court Suzanne-Lenglen Saturday evening.

“It’s tough to play your best friend,” Sabalenka said in her on-court interview after following her 15th career Roland-Garros victory. “She’s an incredible player, coming back after injury. I’m pretty sure she’s going to be back at the top very soon. 

“It’s very tough, but on court we are opponents, I’m trying not to watch the other side, just trying to focus on myself and just bring my best game.”

Sabalenka, who has reached the semifinals in six straight majors, hit 28 winners to 15 for Badosa, converted seven of 18 break points and outpointed her 67-51.

“I just tried to play my best and fight for every point,” Sabalenka said. “The conditions were very tough and I knew that the serve was actually not a big advantage – I knew that I could come back in this match.”

With both Sabalenka and No. 4 seed Elena Rybakina winning on Saturday, coupled with Friday victories by No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek and No. 3 seed Coco Gauff, it’s the first time the top four women have advanced to the last 16 since 2013.

Zverev survives five-set battle with Griekspoor

World No. 4 and fourth seed Alexander Zverev came back from down a double break deficit in the final set of his third-round clash with No. 26 seed Tallon Griekspoor after squandering a two sets-to-one lead and beat the talented Dutchman, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (10-3) in four hours and 14 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier with the roof closed. It was Zverev’s ninth five-set triumph in Paris.

The victory, his fourth victory in five matches against Griekspoor, advanced the German No. 1 into the fourth round at Roland-Garros for the seventh straight year. Zverev is a three-time Paris semifinalist.

“Wow, incredible match. Incredible player. He is unbelievably dangerous,” Zverev said in his on-court interview. “I always struggle against him. I don’t like to play against him but all the credit to him, taking it all the way. It was one or two points here and there. Incredible player and fighter until the end. The atmosphere today was unbelievable. I loved every second of it.”

Zverev, who is in pursuit of his first Grand Slam title, hit 55 winners and committed 41 unforced errors against Griekspoor. Coupled with his Masters 1000 title win in Rome in the lead up to the French Open, he’s now won nine straight matches. His fourth-round opponent will be No. 13 seed Holger Rune of Denmark, who beat 145th-ranked Slovakian qualifier Jozef Kovalik, 7-5, 6-1, 7-6 (2), in two hours and 20 minutes on Court Simonne-Mathieu.

Around Roland-Garros

• World No. 5 Daniil Medvedev struck 53 winners and committed 50 unforced errors against Tomas Machac — and still managed to win to move into the second week. The 28-year-old from Russia improved to 2-0 against the 34th-ranked Machac following his 7-6 (4), 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 win in three hours and 23 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen Saturday afternoon.

Medvedev stepped up his level during the fourth set, broke Machac in the ninth game to go ahead 5-4 and closed out the victory a game later.

Medvedev, who is going after his second major crown, will oppose No. 11 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia. De Minaur eliminated Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3, in two hours and 54 minutes on Court 14.

• Frenchwoman Varvara Gracheva became the second French player into the singles fourth round after defeating Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu, 7-5, 6-3, in an hour and 33 minutes to begin the day on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

The 88th-ranked Gracheva’s win followed the success of Corentin Moutet’s Friday night third-round triumph over Sebastian Ofner of Austria, which made him the last Frenchman remaining in the men’s draw.

Gracheva, who was born in Russia but now claims French citizenship, outpointed the 127th-ranked Begu 67-57 and is through to the fourth round at a major for the first time. On Monday, she will play No. 38 Mirra Andreeva of Russia, who rolled past 62nd-ranked American Peyton Stearns, 6-2, 6-1, in 67 minutes.

• World  No. 4 and fourth seed Elena Rybakina took care of business quickly, showing calm and focus — easy power — as she defeated No. 25 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-4, 6-2, in 67 minutes to start the day on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Her win advanced her to the fourth round at Roland-Garros for the second time.

Prior to Saturday’s third-round match, Rybakina had won four of her five matches against Mertens, including 6-1, 6-0 earlier this year in the third round at Brisbane. However, the only previous time on clay was won by Mertens.

“Every time I watch the opponents play,” Rybakina said in her on-court interview. “I watched her first rounds. I remember the matches we played on hard courts. I was prepared and as always I did my best.”

Next, Rybakina will face  No.15 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who defeated No. 64 Ana Bogdan of Romania, 7-5, 6-2, in an hour and 34 minutes on Court 12 for her 29th career win on Parisian clay.

• No.8 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland prevailed 6-3, 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-1 over 118th-ranked Denis Shapovalov of Canada to clinch the 200th tour-level victory of his career. The two-hour and 41-minute match finished on Court Suzanne-Lenglen Saturday after originally starting outside Friday on Court Simonne-Mathieu before it was suspended by rain.

The 27-year-old Hurkacz, who is in pursuit of his first Roland-Garros quarterfinal appearance, is now 29-11 this season. He won his first ATP Tour title on clay this year in Estoril, Portugal in April.

Next, Hurkacz will face 10th seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who needed two days and four sets to fend off 104th-ranked qualifier Zizou Bergs of Belgium, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4, in three hours and 57 minutes. The third-round match originally began Friday evening outside and finished indoors Saturday evening on Court Philippe-Chatrier before an electrifying crowd that awaited the night session match between defending champion Novak Djokovic and Lorenzo Musetti.

• Other men’s winners: No. 23 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, who defeated No. 14 seed Tommy Paul of the United States, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2, in two hours and 50 minutes on Court 7.

• Other women’s winners: No. 12 Jasmine Paolini of Italy who defeated unseeded Bianca Andreescu of Canada, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0; and Elina Avanesyan of Russia, who upset No. 7 seed Zheng Qinwen of China, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6).

Saturday’s Roland-Garros results

Sunday’s Roland-Garros order of play

By the numbers

Going into his third-round match Saturday evening, Novak Djokovic, the all-time men’s Grand Slam title leader with 24, will tie Roger Federer for most Grand Slam match wins in history with 369 if he beats Lorenzo Musetti.

“Quotable …”

“When it comes to the battle, he will fight and he will not give up. … There are certain profile of players that you can notice that more and other ones not so much, let’s say. They’re a little more passive. He gets really into the game, and this is something that I for sure need to approach with caution and build around it, find my ways around it. It’s almost like a river. You have to find ways around it and reroute and figure it out.”

— No. 9 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, following his third-round win Friday, looking ahead to his fourth-round opponent, No. 35 Matteo Arnaldi of Italy.