Felix Auger-Aliassime ruined the homecoming of Carlos Alcaraz after fighting back to beat the world’s newest top-ranked player 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2 to level Canada with Spain at 1-1 in the Davis Cup on Friday.
Spaniards flocked to Valencia to see 19-year-old Alcaraz in his first match since he won the U.S. Open last weekend.
Instead, they witnessed their new idol succumb to a superb Auger-Aliassime, who endured the partisan crowd and tilted the match his way after Alcaraz dug deep to claim the first-set tiebreaker.
“Felix is a beast. Physically and mentally, Felix is one of the best in the world,” Alcaraz said. “I was right there, fighting, but I wasn’t able to show my top form. It got away from me in the details.
“I didn’t come in very good physical condition,” he added. “It was a very tough day, but I have to say congratulations to him because he played an unbelievable game.”
As the pavilion roared for Alcaraz, Auger-Aliassime coolly responded by surgically placing shot after shot exactly where he wanted. He dominated on his serve with 16 aces and eventually broke Alcaraz late in the second set and twice in the third.
“He is the world No. 1 and big credit to him for that, but today I think I was a little bit better in the third set,” the 13th-ranked Auger-Aliassime said. “I wasn’t going to let my team down with my fighting spirit.”
Roberto Bautista gave Spain the first point after he fought back for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win against Vasek Pospisil, who needed medical treatment to his upper left thigh. The group tie will be decided in doubles.
Bautista helped Spain beat Serbia 3-0 on Wednesday while Alcaraz was resting after jetting home from New York where he won his first Grand Slam on Sunday after a grueling run that included three consecutive five-set victories.
Before the tie, Alcaraz was busy signing autographs and posing for photos after practice. He received the biggest applause when the Spain team was presented and he was introduced as the “new world No. 1.”
After the match, he didn’t focus on the loss, but rather on the joy he got from being back home.
“I wanted to come back to Spain, I mean to share this moment to be No. 1 and to be U.S. Open champion with all my people,” Alcaraz said. “I always love to come back to Spain, to be with my family and friends here with my team.”
After Spanish fans had to stay up practically all night to watch his matches at the U.S. Open due to the time difference, this was the first chance many of his supporters had to watch him play at home since May when he won the Madrid Open. Alcaraz beat Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev in the capital in what many saw as Nadal passing the torch to his Spanish successor.
Red and yellow flags were draped over railings at the pavilion, including one with the name of Alcaraz’s home region, Murcia, painted in big black letters. Valencia, on the Mediterranean coast, is about 2 1/2 hours north of Alcaraz’s hometown of El Palmar, a population of 24,000.
Another Spanish flag bore the message in Spanish, “Carlitos, will you give me your shirt?”
Alcaraz had only one previous meeting with Auger-Aliassime, at the 2021 U.S. Open quarterfinals when the Spaniard had to retire due to injury.
While Alcaraz arrived from a tiring two weeks in the U.S., Auger-Aliassime played singles and doubles on Tuesday to help Canada beat South Korea in their Davis Cup opener.
Unable to touch Auger-Aliassime’s serve, Alcaraz summoned more cheers from the stands, which included his parents. He pumped his fist toward captain Sergi Bruguera and personal coach Juan Carlos Ferrero after hard-won points. He talked to himself trying to find answers.
That proved enough for Alcaraz to squeak out the first-set tiebreaker after Auger-Aliassime’s untimely errors.
But Auger-Aliassime never lost the initiative. Canada captain Frank Dancevic jumped out of his court-side seat to cheer when Auger-Aliassime finally broke Alcaraz late in the second set. The Canadian poured it on.
Alcaraz was finally able to get four break chances while down 1-2 in the third but Auger-Aliassime saved them all and fired consecutive aces to hold serve.
And when Alcaraz hit long to cede a second service game, a woman’s scream was heard above the groans.