Just 18, ‘FAA’ taking flight at Wimbledon

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WIMBLEDON, England — Dealing with jitters early in a match is nothing new to Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Being among the favorites to win Wimbledon? Considering the Canadian is just 18 and never had won so much as one Grand Slam match until this week, well, yes, that’s not the sort of thing he is used to.

One more victory, and the kid known to many by his initials, “FAA,” could be taking on defending champion Novak Djokovic. Not that he’s worrying about that just yet.

The first player born in the 2000s to win a men’s match at a major, the 19th-seeded Auger-Aliassime progressed to the third round in his debut at the All England Club with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over French qualifier Corentin Moutet on Wednesday.

“I can recall being 10 years old and playing (for) the first time away from home and being very nervous. Since (I was) very young, you kind of learn how to deal with this pressure, with the stress,” he said. “But at different stages of your career, you face different times. Now it’s Grand Slams. Maybe one day I’ll play finals of these events and I’ll be, for sure, extremely nervous. I think it’s emotions you can’t go against. It comes – and then it all depends on how you deal with it. Today, I was able to deal with it in a good way.”

Auger-Aliassime is hardly the only one contemplating the possibility that he could play for a major championship in the not-too-distant future. Much like Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old American who beat Venus Williams on Monday and won again Wednesday, Auger-Aliassime is fascinating folks because of his play, but also his age.

Tennis has been waiting for quite some time to discover a worthy successor to the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, who have won the past 10 major titles and 53 of the last 64. So there is a bit of irrational exuberance whenever some youngster comes along with the sort of talent and poise Auger-Aliassime seems to possess in abundance.

As of Wednesday evening, British bookmakers were listing Auger-Aliassime at 25-1 odds to lift the Wimbledon trophy, behind only the top three seeds: No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Federer and No. 3 Nadal.

That’s remarkable. The Montreal native only played one Grand Slam match, and lost it, until this tournament. He had never been ranked above 108th until this season.

But who else is there to rate right behind the game’s dominant figures? It’s just three days into the fortnight and the guys ranked Nos. 4-6 – Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, guys in their 20s all touted as up-and-comers – already are gone, as is three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, who lost to 21-year-old Reilly Opelka of the U.S. in five sets.

“I understand that people want to see a new winner of a Grand Slam. They don’t want to see three of us dominating the Slam titles. Eventually it’s going to come,” Djokovic said, then waited a comedic beat before adding with a smile: “in about 25 years.”

Djokovic moved into the third round by dismissing Denis Kudla of the United States 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

“There were some moments in the match,” Djokovic said, “where maybe I could have done better.”

Whatever you say, Novak.

He will face 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz of Poland on Friday; Auger-Aliassime takes on 21-year-old Ugo Humbert of France.

“I know if I win, I could play Novak. But then there is a match to play. Once the match gets going, you’re already in enough trouble in the court,” Auger-Aliassime said, “you don’t really think of what could happen.”

He boasts a big serve that reached 131 mph on Wednesday and helped him save 12 of 14 break points. His forehand can end a point when he needs it to. So can his backhand. And his returns were good enough to win the first point in 11 of Moutet’s 18 service games.

After losing to him at a grass-court tuneup event last month, Tsitsipas called Auger-Aliassime “the most difficult opponent I’ve ever faced,” agreed with the premise that he could go deep at Wimbledon this year and offered this prediction for down the road: “He can win Grand Slams, to be honest with you.”

Auger-Aliassime is trying not to pay too much attention to that kind of talk, saying that he cares more about his own goals and self-belief than any outside views.

When a reporter asked about the idea that he might be looked upon to “carry the sport forward,” Auger-Aliassime replied: “`Carry the sport’ is a bit much. Obviously, yeah, there’s a bit of a pressure. I think it’s quite funny, because I think for a lot of players, when they play their first Grand Slam, they have zero expectations. No one talks about them.”

With him, that’s not the case. Not at all.

Giron cruises in 3rd set, beats Rybakov at Dallas Open

2023 Australian Open - Day 1
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DALLAS – Marcos Giron advanced to the second round of the Dallas Open with a 6-4, 6-7 (1), 6-1 victory over Alex Rybakov on Tuesday.

The seventh-seeded Giron, who reached the semifinals of the inaugural event a year ago, responded quickly after failing to close out the second set, winning the first five games of the deciding set.

Rybakov broke his fellow American when Giron was serving for the match in the second set. Then Rybakov won the first six points of the second-set tiebreaker.

“I’m really happy with how I was able to reset in the third and just get back to the game plan from the beginning and elevate,” Giron said. “He played well and served well and kind of hung in there.”

Eighth-seeded Adrian Mannarino of France won the final five points of a first-set tiebreaker and the last four games of the second to beat American Steve Johnson 7-6 (6), 6-2.

J.J. Wolf, the No. 6 seed, had little trouble in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over fellow American Brandon Holt.

John Isner, the fifth seed and unofficial tournament host in his hometown event, played later Tuesday. Like Giron, Isner lost in the semifinals last year.

Sock wins at Dallas Open, set to face top-seeded Fritz

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DALLAS – Wild-card entry Jack Sock opened with a 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Ilya Ivashka at the Dallas Open, setting up a second-round meeting with top-seeded fellow American Taylor Fritz.

Sock broke Ivashka’s serve in the final game to win the match. Ivashka fell behind 2-0 to start the final set but broke Sock to get back on serve.

Down a break early in the second set, Ivashka rallied to force the deciding set after Sock cruised in the first-set tiebreaker.

The eighth-ranked Fritz is back for the second Dallas Open after losing in the semifinals as the top seed in the inaugural edition of the indoor hard-court event last year. Defending champion Reilly Opelka isn’t in the field.