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Auger-Aliassime bounces Vukic in tough Japan Open opener

Felix Auger-Aliassime Felix Auger-Aliassime - The Canadian Press

TOKYO — Felix Auger-Aliassime took a while to find his game at the Japan Open Tennis Championships on Monday, but when the Montreal athlete did it was enough to net him a first-round singles victory over resilient Australian Aleksandar Vukic.

The eighth-seeded Auger-Aliassime won 7-6 (3), 6-7(2), 6-2 in two hours, 51 minutes to advance to the second round against Austrian Sebastian Ofner, who defeated Christopher O'Connell of Australia 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 7-5 in a tense two-hour, 48-minute match earlier in the day.

In the first set against the 27-year-old Vukic, Auger-Aliassime struggled early with unforced errors and uncharacteristic misses. He served for set point 45 minutes into the opening frame up 5-4, but double faulted and then had to fight to force a tiebreaker after falling behind 6-5.

The 23-year-old Canadian saved his best tennis of the first set for the tiebreaker where his serve and shot placement started to click. It took 63 minutes to wrap up the win. Before that win Auger-Aliassime had lost seven of his past eight tiebreakers.

Trailing 3-2 in the second set, Auger-Aliassime had six breakpoint opportunities but couldn't cash in and fell behind 4-2 to Vukic. But the Canadian rallied back and eventually tied the set 5-5, before going ahead 6-5.

Vukic tied the set at 6-6, forcing another tiebreaker in the ATP 500 match, which the Australian won 7-2. The second set took 70 minutes to complete.

Auger-Aliassime appeared to grab the momentum early in the third set as he quickly broke Vukic and then went up 2-0 on his serve. Changing to a more attacking style, the Canadian broke Vukic again and went up 3-0 with a series of brilliant powerful cross-court shots and defensive digs.

But Vukic broke back and reduced his deficit to 3-1 only to have Auger-Aliassime break right back and go up 4-1. Then the recharged Canadian took a commanding 5-1 lead, winning the final point with a service ace. Up 5-2, Auger-Aliassime served out the match.

Overall, Auger-Aliassime had 13 aces compared to Vukic's five. The Canadian had six double faults, while Vukic had two.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2023.