Canadian young gun Felix Auger-Aliassime bounced back from an opening match defeat to claim the biggest scalp in the ATP Finals field.
The fifth seed rallied impressively from his opening defeat to Casper Ruud at the season finale in Turin, and defeated top seed Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday.
The result sees notch his maiden victory at the prestigious season finale.
“I think having one match here, I got used to the conditions on centre court,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“It helped me a lot. I felt my game was better today. My serve was great and return and backhand was much better. I was hitting it with my more consistency and quality. When I am playing like this, I have proven I can compete and beat some of the best players in the world.”
Despite the loss, Nadal has not been eliminated from contention for year-end No 1 in the ATP Rankings.
If Casper Ruud claims a set against Taylor Fritz this evening, Nadal will be eliminated from semi-final contention in Turin and therefore Carlos Alcaraz will clinch year-end World No. 1.
Auger-Aliassime had to withstand early pressure from the top-seeded Nadal but recovered from 15/40 to hold serve in the both the first and seventh games of the first set.
The wunderkid produced precise serving and struck the ball cleanly off both wings at important moments throughout, saving five of five break points to improve his record in Green Group to 1-1.
The Canadian is set to take on Taylor Fritz in his final round-robin match as he seeks to reach the semi-finals on tournament debut.
“I am one win, one loss now. If I can get two wins, hopefully I can get through, so let’s see how it goes,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“They will play it out tonight and I will be ready for Taylor in two days. It won’t be easy. He has been playing really good this year and these conditions are perfect for him.
“I will use the experience of Toni [Nadal] in these situations. He has been a great help to me. I have a tonne of respect for him and his family. It is special to play Rafa with Toni here, but at the same time we are competitors, and we try our best.”
The 22-year-old was delighted to have defeated childhood hero Nadal for the first time in three appearances.
Auger-Aliassime came close to the feat in the pair’s most recent tour-level meeting at Roland Garros in May. However, the legendary Spaniard ultimately prevailed in a five-set epic.
“I wasn’t sure If I would be here one day or if I could only dream of it,” said Auger-Aliassime. “The age difference is huge, and it proves what a champion he is and what an example because he is still here at 36, battling against guys in their young 20s. He is a great champion and has a great attitude.”
Nadal appeared keen to atone for his opening defeat against Fritz in Turin as he carved out two break points in the first game against Auger-Aliassime. However, as it did so often during his late-season charge, the Canadian consistently produced big deliveries to escape.
Having had little impact in return games in the early stages, Auger-Aliassime made his move in the eighth game, clinching the only break of the set as his ability to strike clean winners in the fast conditions came to the fore.
The momentum stayed with the Canadian in the early stages of the second set and he ramped up the pressure on Nadal with a break for 2-1.
Despite glimpses of his best form from Nadal, the Raging Bull was all snort and no gore and was unable to frequently dictate points as Auger-Aliassime finished the match having struck 32 winners to Nadal’s 13.
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