Djere Holds Off Felix For Maiden Title
Laslo Djere's week at the Rio Open presented by Claro went from great on Tuesday to career-changing on Sunday. The 23-year-old Serbian won his maiden ATP Tour title in Brazil, beating 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 6-3, 7-5 to take the ATP 500 crown.
Djere nor Auger-Aliassime had competed in a tour-level final before, but in a nervy title match from both sides, the 23-year-old was the calmer and more free-swinging of the two. Djere broke the #NextGenATP Canadian six times, and although he was far from perfect with his serve, when he needed to, he found a way out of trouble.
Djere, No. 90 in the ATP Rankings, is projected to rise to No. 37 on Monday when the new ATP Rankings are released. He dedicated the title to his late parents. His mother passed away seven years ago, Djere said, and his father died just two months ago.
“I don’t know many tennis players who went through these things. I want to be that guy who inspires others and shows that you can still be successful,” Djere said.
“It’s been the week of my dreams. So many things have been achieved here. I’m really happy, excited and emotional now. I’m happy I could push through this match because it was very tough mentally and physically.”
Huge congratulations to Laslo for his amazing win at @RioOpenOficial & his maiden @ATP_Tour trophy. You have demonstrated a great deal of resilience & fighting spirit in difficult times. Thank you for your honesty & transparency in sharing your emotions about your parents 🙏❤🇷🇸 https://t.co/8ozI498Lqs— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) February 25, 2019
The Serbian's week started with a straight-sets win against top seed and 2017 champion Dominic Thiem for his first Top 10 victory. His coach, upon seeing Thiem as his charge's first-round opponent, was initially frustrated.
"My coach was disappointed because he felt I was playing so good in the practises and then I got the top seed in the first round. But I felt that I should look at it in a positive way and that maybe this was a good moment to play the top seed,” Djere said.
From there, the Serbian didn't drop a set against Japan's Taro Daniel and #NextGenATP Norwegian Casper Ruud, and a semi-final walkover (Bedene) left him fresh for the final against Auger-Aliassime, who was after ATP Tour history.
Not since Kei Nishikori (18 years, 50 days) at the 2008 Delray Beach Open had a player younger than Auger-Aliassime, who will turn 19 in August, won a tour-level title. The Canadian became the youngest player to reach an ATP 500 title match since the tournament tier was established in 2009.
But a shaky start put Auger-Aliassime behind from the beginning, as the final opened with three consecutive service breaks. Djere, however, calmed himself down, holding and then breaking Auger-Aliassime when the Canadian donated his second double fault of the game to fall behind 1-4. Auger-Aliassime, for the match, hit more than twice as many unforced errors as winners, 47 to 20, including nine double faults.
“It was my serve that fell apart today, but it could have been my backhand or my forehand,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s frustrating because I could have done better today, but it shows that I have to mature as a player and a person to give myself chances to win titles. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just proves I have to keep working and get better.”
Djere, meanwhile, was hitting tomahawk forehand return winners and opening up the court with his two-handed backhand, surprising Auger-Aliassime with down-the-line winners.
The Canadian shifted the momentum by breaking to start the second set and playing his way into more rallies. But Djere routinely made him work for one more shot.
The Serbian broke back in the sixth game when Auger-Aliassime let slip a 40/15 lead. Serving to stay in the match in the 12th game, Auger-Aliassime saved four championship points before dumping a forehand into the net.
“My expectations weren’t to win this. But throughout the week, I felt that I was playing really good here," Djere said.
He will receive 500 ATP Rankings points and $369,000 in prize money. Auger-Aliassime will receive 300 ATP Rankings points and $185,325 in prize money.