Fearless Felix Reaches First Masters 1000 Main Draw
Weeks after making his ATP World Tour debut in Rotterdam, teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime is about to tick off another first after winning through qualifying at the BNP Paribas Open on Wednesday. The 17-year-old from Montreal defeated Slovak Norbert Gombos 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 to reach his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 main draw.
It makes Auger-Aliassime the first man born in the 2000s to contest a Masters 1000 main draw. And his reward for doing so – a first-round meeting with fellow Canadian qualifier Vasek Pospisil.
“I’m grateful. It just shows I’m on the right path,” Auger-Aliassime said “I’m doing some great things. The future is probably bright but there’s still a lot of work to do, to get a constant level in these matches.
“With the knee injury I didn’t play many matches at the start of the year so to come here, playing some tough guys, winning some tough matches, that’s exactly what I needed.”
The teenager narrowly fell to Filip Krajinovic in his tour-level debut at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament last month before falling to Italian Thomas Fabiano in his second tour outing as a wild card in Marseille. Our cameras caught up with Auger-Aliassime before his ATP World Tour 500 debut in Rotterdam.
The Canadian admitted nerves got the better of him on that occasion. Third time around in a tour-level main draw he would place no expectations on his results, just on his attitude.
“So excited. It’s so great,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I started good then he raised his level. He was dominating me through the first set and the first half of the second and then I just stuck with him.
“I served well, stayed calm and I think it just paid off at the end. After playing my best level since the start of the year in the third and to get through to my first Masters 1000, it is just unbelievable.”
The top seed in qualifying, Pospisil defeated Spaniard Adrian Menendez-Maceiras 7-6(5), 6-2 to book his main draw berth. Three times the World No. 75 has qualified for the BNP Paribas Open. Last year he did so and went on to land his biggest career win over then No. 1 Andy Murray en route to the third round.
The BNP Paribas Open is guaranteed a second all-Canadian battle in the second round when the winner of the Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil showdown meets No. 32 seed and 2016 runner-up Milos Raonic. In an impressive day for the Canadians in qualifying on Wednesday, Peter Polansky made it three from three when he saw off Italian Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 to set a first-round meeting with Romanian Marius Copil.
Indian Wells holds fond memories for Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis as the site of his lone victory over Roger Federer. Now sitting two spots out of the Top 100, the 32-year-old is finding form again at the BNP Paribas Open, into the main draw for the first time in three years.
It was eight years ago he brought down top seed Federer en route to the fourth round. His best result remains a quarter-final run on debut in 2006 before Rafael Nadal ended his run.
French veteran Nicolas Mahut also won through qualifying – the first time he had done so in four attempts this season. The 36-year-old defeated Spaniard Ricardo Ojeda Lara 6-3, 6-2 and will meet fellow qualifier Yuki Bhambri. In a battle between two players from India, Bhambri scored a 6-4, 6-2 result over Ramkumar Ramanathan.
Japan's Taro Daniel will get the chance to claim his first tour-level win of 2018 (0-5 so far) after he beat American Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-3 in the final round of qualifying. This is the first time in three attempts the World No. 109 Daniel has survived qualifying in the desert and will go on to face fellow quaiflier Cameron Norrie, the Brit a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Sergiy Stakhovsky.
American World No. 200 Evan King, 25 from Chicago, was the first player to qualify for the 2018 main draw after he easily defeated third-seeded Israeli veteran Dudi Sela 6-0, 6-3. King, who will play just his fifth tour-level match, has played exclusively at the Challenger level in 2018 and has just one tour-level match win to his name in his career. He will take on compatriot Jared Donaldson first up.
World No. 126 Tim Smyczek became the second American to win through qualifying when he defeated Belgian World No. 113 Ruben Bemelmans 6-3, 7-6(1). The 30-year-old has now survived Indian Wells qualifying in five of his six attempts and meets Laso Dere in the opening round of the main draw.