Taylor Fritz booked his spot in the semi-final of the ATP Finals on his debut as he outlasted Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 6-2 in two hours and 44 minutes to set up a meeting with Novak Djokovic on Saturday. The American was not even set to play the season-ending championships but was drafted in following the withdrawal of Carlos Alcaraz and is making the most of his time in Turin as he got out of the group stage and into the last four following an epic battle with a fellow first-timer at the tournament.
Auger-Aliassime and Fritz were playing for a spot in Saturday’s semi-final to face the winner of the opposing group, Djokovic. Both men made their ATP Finals debut this week after qualifying for the tournament for the first time and had gone 1-1 in their round robin matches as they both beat Rafael Nadal but lost to Casper Ruud.
The pair had faced off once before at the start of this season during the ATP Cup where Fritz came from a set down to win 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4, and it was another first set tiebreak in their second meeting as nothing could separate them with not even a single deuce game being played in the opening 51 minutes. The American dumped the ball in the net to immediately go down a mini-break but an error from Auger-Aliassime made them even.
It was Fritz who had a 4-2 advantage as the pair swapped sides with the 22-year-old’s backhand suddenly abandoning him in the tiebreak as he made three unforced errors off the backhand side, and Fritz took the opening set 7-6(4) after an hour to put him within one set of the semi-final. The Canadian managed to regroup in the second set as he carved out the first three break points of the contest but failed to capitalise with Fritz holding for 1-1.
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Both men traded holds until the set went to a tiebreak once again, but this time it was the world No 9 who took the first mini-break but he quickly lost his advantage with an error. The fifth seed’s backhand then came back to haunt him again and Fritz led 4-2 for the second tiebreak in a row but hit just his second double fault of the week to blow his lead before the 22-year-old suddenly found momentum and fired back to take the second set 7-6(5) and force a decider.
Fritz finally earned his first four break points of the match after two-and-a-half hours at 3-2 in the final set and took a 4-2 lead after an eight-minute game as Auger-Aliassime sent a ball wide on the fourth break pount, putting the eighth seed within two games of the semi-final. The errors continued to creep up for the Canadian, who hit his 30th of the match to give Fritz three match points and the Indian Wells champion closed out a 7-6(4) 6-7 6-2 marathon victory to get out of the group stage and into the last four.
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It means that Fritz is through to the semi-final after originally not even being set to play the ATP Finals as he narrowly missed out on the final qualification spot but managed to get in when world No 1 Carlos Alcaraz tore an ab muscle during the Paris Masters and was forced to end his season early. The world No 9 will face Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s semi-final as the Serb seeks a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals title after winning the Red Group.
Fritz has never been able to beat Djokovic in their five previous meetings but they have not met in over a year, and the American has well and truly become a different player this season as he broke into the top ten, won the Indian Wells Masters and reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final. Meanwhile, Auger-Aliassime’s career-best ATP Tour season comes to an end as the 22-year-old picked up four titles – including three in three weeks – and joined Fritz in making a top 10 debut and ATP Finals debut. He will still be seen in action at next week’s Davis Cup Finals to represent Canada.