In one of the matches of the season so far, Andrey Rublev defeated the fellow youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6,6-7, 6-4 in just under three hours in the semi-final in Auckland. Two of the most talented prospects pushed each other to the limits and fended off 17 out of 20 break chances to stay neck and neck from start to finish, giving the crowd at Memorial Drive Tennis Centre something to cheer about.
Felix offered his 120% in the quest for the fourth ATP final, blasting 56 winners and 54 unforced errors to act as the more aggressive player on the court. The Canadian repelled eight out of ten break chances and that wasn't enough to cross the finish line first, erasing two match points in the second set before wasting a massive advantage in the decider to push Andrey into the final.
The Russian had 31 winners and 26 unforced errors, getting broken only once and keeping his focus on a high level despite some tough moments at the end of the second and beginning of the third set to remain on the title course.
Auger-Aliassime erased a break point in the opening game of the match with an ace, doing the same at 3-3 with a smash winner and creating his first opportunities in the next game that could have sent him 5-3 up. Andrey defended three break chances to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard, with both serving well in the remaining games to set up a tie break that Rublev claimed 7-5 following a forehand error from Felix.
The second set offered more drama and excitement, with 11 break points up for grabs in five different games. With no room for mistakes, Auger-Aliassime survived four of those in the eighth game and had his chances to move in front in the next game when Rubev had to play against three break points.
The Russian stayed strong to make a vital hold, keeping the pressure on Felix and earning a match point at 6-5 on the return. The Canadian saved it with a service winner to reach the tie break where he landed another great serve at 6-7, defending the second match point and taking the breaker 9-7 thanks to a smash winner that gave him a massive boost after two hours and 16 minutes of a thrilling contest.
With the momentum on his side, Felix claimed 12 of the first 15 points of the deciding set and broke Andrey after a costly double fault. Ready to fight until the end, Rublev broke back at love in game five and saved a break chance in the eighth game to stay in touch and grab a reward in the next game when he broke Felix to move 5-4 in front.
Serving for the win in the tenth game, Andrey held at 30 after a smash error from Felix, sealing the deal and delivering the 11th straight victory. "I'm disappointed; there were so many occasions. We all saw the same match and it's tough to swallow, but I think we have to see the big picture.
We produced a high level of tennis, a good battle. Andrey deserved it as much as I did; there can only be one winner, that's the way it is. I'm going to keep giving myself chances to play encounters like this and to go deep in tournaments, and hopefully, one day, it will go my way.
I'm tired but it is not that bad; that's a good sign for the upcoming clashes. The goal is to take some rest, recover and get ready for Melbourne. I had a sense I was getting closer when I got that break; I also served unbelievable the game right after, four aces.
We both played incredible tennis on break points; he was serving so good every time and we pushed each other to the limits in those pivotal moments. Andrey raised his level to make a comeback in the decider, overplaying me to cross the finish line first.
I was a little bit away from victory anyway when I missed that smash on the match point; it would have been something else if I sprayed that error on my match point and I will not think about it that much," Auger-Aliassime said.