Sunday’s Open 13 Provence final will see a major ‘first’ – either Stefanos Tsitsipas will successfully defend a title for the first time or Felix Auger-Aliassime will win his first title after losing four previous finals. Which will it be?
Tsitsipas vs Auger-Aliassime is live from Marseille on Sunday 23 February at 2pm local/1pm GMT
Tsitsipas has won four ATP Tour titles in his career, most notably the Nitto ATP Finals at the end of 2019, but had not even attempted to defend one before Marseille, not playing Stockholm last October after winning the title in 2018.
The first Greek player to win the Open 13 when he defeated Mikhail Kukushkin in last year’s final, Tsitsipas came into this week’s 250 tournament with little form to draw on after an underwhelming start to the year, having gone 1-2 at the ATP Cup (admittedly the ‘1’ was a win over fellow top-10 player Alexander Zverev, although Zverev was not exactly shining at the time), lost in the third round of the Australian Open to Milos Raonic in straight sets and gone 1-1 in Rotterdam, defeated by Aljaz Bedene in the second round.
Tsitsipas has found some nice form in Marseille, however, reaching the final without dropping a set. His opening opponent, Sweden’s Mikael Ymer, had little to threaten him with, but the same could not be said for quarterfinal opponent Vasek Pospisil – the big-serving Canadian had two top-10 wins in the past fortnight in Montpellier, where he reached the final, and Rotterdam. Tsitsipas disposed of Pospisil 7-5, 6-3, and won his semifinal by an identical scoreline against Alexander Bublik.
Like Pospisil, Bublik has plenty of weapons: The Kazakh, a mercurial character, plays an unconventional, unpredictable game that can give opponents fits, and was looking to reach his third ATP Tour 250 final after finishing runner-up in Newport and Chengdu in 2019; he had also taken out two seeded players in Marseille, Benoit Paire and Denis Shapovalov. Regardless, Tsitsipas was cool and collected; he took an early break in the first set and although he failed to serve it out at 5-4, swiftly rebounded to win the next two games before dominating the second.
‘I tried to stay in the match as much as possible and play each point individually. I know he can be quite unexpected.
‘You don’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what to expect from today’s opponent… I am really happy with myself that I found a balance and I didn’t panic when things got tight. That is a great attitude that I put out on the court.’
Felix Auger-Aliassime, unlike Tsitsipas, came into the Open 13 Provence on great form – but, unlike Tsitsipas, his progress to the final has not been smooth.
Auger-Aliassime didn’t have too much to show for the first month or so of 2020, with his highlight a semifinal showing in Adelaide (he was unfortunate to run into qualifier Ernests Gulbis in the first round in Melbourne). But he found form in style last week at the ABN AMRO WTT in Rotterdam, where he beat Jan-Lennard Struff, Grigor Dimitrov, Aljaz Bedene and Pablo Carreno Busta (all for the loss of just one set) to reach the final.
It was the fourth ATP Tour final of Auger-Aliassime’s career after runner-up finishes in Rio (to Laslo Djere), Lyon (to Benoit Paire) and Stuttgart (to Matteo Berrettini), and it was once again a loss for the 19-year-old Canadian, who went down 2-6, 4-6 to Gael Monfils.
Auger-Aliassime is now on the brink of going 0-5 in finals as he takes on Tsitsipas on Sunday. But resilience has been a keynote of the 19-year-old Canadian’s week in Marseille.
He had to save two match points in the first round against Stefano Travaglia, before facing down three against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the second round. In the quarterfinals, he defeated Egor Gerasimov 7-5, 6-2 and did a good job of keeping the match to straight sets against the experienced (and maddening) Gilles Simon in the semifinals, edging the Frenchman out 7-5, 7-6(2).
This will be the fourth meeting between Tsitsipas and Auger-Aliassime – and the Canadian actually leads the head-to-head 2-1, beating Tsitsipas at Indian Wells and Queens Club in 2019. Tsitsipas did win their most recent encounter, in Shanghai in 2019, but Auger-Aliassime has a real look about him this week – this should be his moment to win his first ATP Tour title.