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Felix Auger-Aliassime won his only previous ATP Head2Head meeting with Jannik Sinner earlier this season in Madrid.

Preview: Felix, Sinner Clash For QF Berth

Medvedev, Shapovalov, Fritz, Rublev also in action on Thursday

As far back as his 2016 breakthrough at Flushing Meadows, when as a highly touted teen he claimed the US Open boys’ singles title, Felix Auger-Aliassime has had to tote some outsized outside expectations.

Here we could barely pronounce his name, yet we were sure this uncannily athletic Canadian was destined for a title-filled career. The thing is, we forgot that he was just 16; we expected it all to happen overnight.   

“You shouldn’t listen to what is said outside,” said Auger-Aliassime last week in his native Montreal, where he became the first Quebecois to reach the quarter-finals of the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers on home turf. “You always try to see the future. I do that, too. But what a player has to do is to keep a cool head because every point you play, you must win them by yourself. You have to win each match you play and start again every day. Nothing is easy.”

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The successes would indeed come. In 2019, the then-18-year-old became the youngest member of the Top 25 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 20 years, the youngest ATP 500 finalist (Rio de Janeiro) in a decade, and the youngest Miami Open semi-finalist in tournament history, which dates back to 1985. By 2021, he had cracked the Top 10, only the third Canadian to do so after Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov, while reaching the Wimbledon quarter-finals and US Open semi-finals.

But after going winless in his first eight finals at the tour level, some began to wonder if he had what it took to deliver on all that promise they had first pinned on him back in 2016. That is until he helped lead his countrymen to the 2022 ATP Cup title (beating the likes of Alexander Zverev), then went on to defeat two Top-10 opponents (Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas) in capturing his first ATP trophy in Rotterdam.  

“Tennis is a sport, many things happen: Sometimes good things, sometimes not as good,” said Auger-Aliassime, now 22. “The important thing is to keep going. Even when you win, it’s important to see what you can improve. I’ve been doing that for my whole career.”

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The seventh seed this week at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Auger-Aliassime is poised for a third-round meeting with 10th seed Jannik Sinner. He defeated the Italian in their only other ATP Head2Head encounter earlier this year in the Round of 16 at the ATP Masters 1000 Madrid, 6-1, 6-2. The outcome could be telling as both players jockey for position in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin. Auger-Aliassime has already moved up one spot this week to sixth position, while Sinner is 15th and could surge into the Top 8 with a title. The Canadian could further distance himself with another win on Thursday.

A quarter-finalist this year at the Australian Open, Dubai, Miami, Monte-Carlo, Rome and Wimbledon, Sinner claimed his first title of 2022 last month in Umag (def. Carlos Alcaraz, 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-1). Since adding Darren Cahill to his coaching team (he joins Simone Vagnozzi), Sinner appears to be playing an even more aggressive brand of tennis, something that was on display this week on his 21st birthday in a three-hour, 15-minute, 6-7(9), 6-4, 7-6(6) opening-round win over Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis. A six-time ATP titlist, he is chasing his maiden Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati, where he reached the second round in his tournament debut a year ago.

Next up for World No. 1 and 2019 champ Daniil Medvedev is 31st-ranked Denis Shapovalov, who held off American Tommy Paul in Round 2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3. The Canadian, who is coming off back-to-back wins for the first time since reaching the quarter-finals in Rome in May, is an even 2-2 against the top-ranked Medvedev, having dropped their most recent encounter last year at the Laver Cup in Boston, 6-4, 6-0.

Now 13-3 in his past five tournaments, highlighted by his second Eastbourne title and his Grand Slam-best quarter-final run at Wimbledon (l. to Rafael Nadal in five sets), Taylor Fritz will do battle with 2021 Cincinnati finalist Andrey Rublev. The American got the best of Rublev in March en route to his first ATP Masters 1000 crown in Indian Wells (7-5, 6-4 in the semi-finals), and now holds a slight 3-2 edge in ATP Head2Heads.

“I need to attack as much as possible. He’s a very aggressive-minded player like I am, as well,” observed Fritz, now 21-7 on hard courts and 15-3 at ATP Masters 1000 events this season. “I feel like I need to try and beat him to the punch as much as possible. I can’t be the one being passive, letting him move me around the court, work me around the court. I just need to kind of focus on myself, play my game and be aggressive.”

The No. 3 seed Alcaraz is looking for his second consecutive win over Marin Cilic in 2022. The Spaniard, 19, downed the Croat vet on his way to the Miami Open crown in April (6-4, 6-4 in Round 2), his first of two ATP Masters 1000 titles on the year.

Cilic, 33, captured the 2016 title in Cincinnati, ousting then-eighth-ranked Andy Murray in the final, 6-4, 7-5.

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