A first final of 2020 is on the line as Felix Auger-Aliassime takes on Pablo Carreno Busta in Rotterdam on Saturday.
Felix Auger-Aliassime vs Pablo Carreno Busta is live from Rotterdam on Saturday, 15 February from 2:00pm GMT/ 3:00pm local time
Canadian young gun, Auger-Aliassime is contesting his second semi-final of the year, while Carreno-Busta is into the last four for the first time this year following a hard-fought three-set win over Italian young gun, Jannik Sinner on Friday.
Auger-Aliassime got his own quarter final done in straight sets, but not before saving a set point in the second set against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene. The young gun did not produce his most consistent tennis, but he held his nerve to close out a 6-4 7-6 victory after an hour and 51 minutes.
Both players split the first eight games, but Auger-Aliassime seemed to have cracked the match open when he won five games in a row to open up a set and 3-0 lead. Bedene refused to give in, breaking back before forcing the set into a tie break. The Slovenian held a set point at 6-5 in the breaker, but Auger-Aliassime won the next three points to escape with the win, and a spot in the semi-finals.
“He didn’t give me a lot, but I was clutch in the first set to break him at 5-4,” said Auger-Aliassime, who hit 22 winners in the match. “Outside of that he didn’t give me much. We know he can beat some good players, including this week and throughout his career. You know you’ve got to earn it, but you’ll get your chances – and I did”.
“In the second set, I was a little bit frustrated with myself how he came back and I gave away too many free points. I felt like he was playing better and better, and I had to accept the challenge. The tie-break could have gone so many ways, but I am happy with the way I fought.”
The Canadian is bidding for his fourth career final, having finished runner-up in Rio, Lyon and Stuttgart in an impressive 2019. Starting off from outside the top-100, he got as high as 17th in a superb breakthrough season, before settling for a year-end ranking of 21st.
He opened 2020 with a 1-3 run at the ATP Cup before reaching the semi-finals in Adelaide. Two quiet tournaments followed- a first-round defeat to Ernests Gulbis at the Australian Open and a second round exit in Montpellier- but he’s put together a good week in Montpellier, beating Jan-Lennard Struff, Grigor Dimitrov and now, Bedene to make the semi-finals.
Next up for the 19-year-old is Spaniard, Pablo Carreno Busta, who scored a dramatic three-set victory over rising Italian, Jannik Sinner in the quarter finals on Friday.
Carreno Busta served for the match at 5-3 in the final set, but he played a loose game to get broken. The world No. 30 then held a 0-40 lead as Sinner served to stay in the match at 4-5, but the Italian fended off all three match points, before sending the contest into a final set tie break.
Sinner had scored his first top-ten victory over David Goffin in the previous round, and looked set to back it up with another big win over Carreno Busta when he had two match points at 6-4 in the tie break, but he faltered on the finish line, as his more experienced opponent won the next four points to close out a 7-5 3-6 7-6 victory after two hours and 45 minutes.
“It was very tough mentally to continue fighting on every point,” said Carreno Busta. “I know that I lost a lot of opportunities to close out the match, serving for it at 5-3 and then with three match points at 0/40 at 5-4. I didn’t play good points, I was playing too slowly and not aggressively. But after that, I continued fighting very well and saved two match points playing aggressively in the tie-break. It was a very important match to win.”
Carreno Busta has been the marathon man in Rotterdam this week, needing three sets and at least two and a half hours to get through each of his three matches so far. He took out Adrian Mannarino 7-5 6-7 6-4 in the first round, outlasted Roberto Bautista-Agut 6-4 2-6 7-6 in the second round before coming through Thursday’s contest against Sinner.
The Spaniard is into his first semi-final of the season, having opened the year with a quarter final in Adelaide, made the third round at the Australian Open, and crashed at the first hurdle in Montpellier last week.
The 28-year-old was a US Open semi-finalist in 2017 and a top-ten player as recently as February 2018, but he has had a difficult couple of years. He slid to No. 69 in August last year, but he hauled himself to a year-end mark of 27th following decent home stretch that included a title in Chengdu and a semi-final in Stockholm.
Should he go on to win the title in Rotterdam this week, he will return to the top-20, but there are still a couple of high hurdles to cross before that, one of which is a first meeting with Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Auger-Aliassime has got greater firepower, but he can get erratic at times, especially against consistent baseliners like Carreno Busta. I just wonder if fatigue could be a factor for Carreno Busta, given the number of hours he’s already spent on court this week.