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Column by Hélène Pelletier: An equally great challenge for Félix Auger-Aliassime

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SPECIAL COLLABORATION

Let’s go first with a little summary in women. What a great curiosity to find out how Leylah Fernandez behaves at the start of the National Bank Open. Due to a stress fracture in her right foot that disrupted her momentum in the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros in late May, Leylah has been out of competition ever since. Honestly, our Canadian is doing really well. Fast on the ball and confident in her game choices, she is most often the one who dictates the pace of her first match in front of qualified Storm Sanders, 273rd in the world in singles. Sometimes, however, the Aussie is much better than her grade as she saves two match points before flying over the second set tiebreak.

In the third set it seems a little more that our Quebecer lacks the benchmark, but regardless her combativeness takes over the lack of competition as she believes in her game to trigger with conviction at the end of the third set. She’s not perfect our Leylah, but she’s brilliant when she counts during this long almost 2:41 debate! What an exceptional competitor!

Fernandez does it again on Wednesday, but the challenge proves too big against Beatriz Hadad Maia. The Brazilian is one of the most successful players of recent times. From the height of her 6 feet, he rules the roost that has allowed her to win two tournaments on the grass in Birmingham and Nottingham. From 83rd place in the world, she is very close to top 20 now. Leylah recovered in the first set after falling behind for a break, but her efforts were not rewarded as she lost the set in the tiebreak after 63 minutes of hard work. I don’t find it explosive enough, which is deadly against such a powerful player. In a way it is completely normal as this is a return to the game, our Quebecer can still be very proud to have sought victory in her first game. Let’s give him time to orient himself and feel good on the pitch.

A quick word about Rebecca Marino who escaped the victory in front of the 19 year old Chinese Qinwen Zheng. Our Canadian has the right attacking strategy as she leads 6-3, 3-0 in the second set tiebreak. Unfortunately a little nervous, she stops putting pressure on the opponent, which obviously offers further opportunities for Zheng to stay longer in the rally. At this level we know that few points can make a difference and that we must take the most important ones and not wait for the blame. Heartbreaking, this match Rebecca had at the end of the racket.

Bianca Andreescu, champion in 2019, could avenge Becca, given that in the next round she will face Zheng after two very high quality victories in front of the ninth world Daria Kasatkina and Alizé Cornet, who had beaten him the two times they had faced each other. It is the first time in over a year that our Grand Slam champion has won two consecutive games on hard courts. Relieved by the Toronto crowd, our national Bibi works in an orderly and dedicated manner. Obviously the only thing that worries me is whether his body can handle the rest of things when Bianca spent almost five hours on the pitch in two games. Fingers crossed because her level of play is so high again!

In Montreal, now, it is difficult to ignore the good performance of Alexis Galarneau, used to getting the second set at 5-3 in front of former world number 3 Grigor Dimitrov. He just lacked a bit of high-level experience. A little tense in key moments, which is completely normal, the Quebecer crosses a little less well, with the consequence that the opponent has plenty of time to settle in the exchange. At 23, it is time for him to continue to improve his ranking to savor the highest levels more and more often. He deserves to be financially encouraged …

Due to rain, Denis Shapovalov must resume the next day at 3-3 in the second set tiebreak after losing the first 7-5 against Alex de Minaur. Not always super constant, Denis fights well in the second set. The problem is that at the restart he starts with a double fault and continues with three other fouls. What a pity not to be able to perform better than this … In a few minutes the game is over and I almost want to cry …

Congratulations, on the other hand, to our handsome Félix who bravely overcomes the first obstacle. It is not easy to start a tournament in the middle of the week and also face the little poison Yoshihito Nishioka, who brings everything into play! It was fabulous to see the audience experience all the emotions of the match with him. Today’s challenge will be just as great, if not more so, against another southpaw Cameron Norrie, 10th in the world, while Félix just missed an opportunity at break points last week in Los Cabos (two out of eight). On this Thursday, rest assured, our two young stars, Bianca and Félix, will do everything to make you capsize with happiness …

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