Felix Auger-Aliassime was supposed to be the less experienced player in Wednesday night’s Miami Open quarterfinal. It sure didn’t seem like it.
If Borna Coric is defined by any trait as a tennis player, one could do a lot worse than offer this statement: Borna Coric, if playing reasonably well, makes it hard for opponents to beat him. You are going to feel the effort and strain you put into a match if Coric is putting up a good fight. Ask Roger Federer, who was fortunate to beat Coric in last year’s Indian Wells semifinal and then lost to Coric in the Halle final and Shanghai semifinals. Coric is still learning how to put all the pieces together in his career, but he has shown he can be a formidable player.
In the first set of this Felix-Borna quarterfinal, Auger-Aliassime felt the weight of the ball from the other side of the net. More precisely, he felt that weight for over an hour.
An 18-year-old playing in his first Masters quarterfinal against the 2018 Shanghai Masters finalist and a No. 11 seed was likely to lack the answers needed to navigate a difficult situation.
Canada really doesn’t care about what people are likely to do. In this month of meteoric climbs for 18-year-old Canadian tennis players, Auger-Aliassime has continued in Miami what Bianca Andreescu took to the highest level in Indian Wells.
What was noticeable about the denouement of the first set is not merely that Auger-Aliassime prevailed over Coric, but how decisively he took the upper hand. Felix very plainly bossed a tiebreaker. He played that tiebreaker as though he matter-of-factly expected to win and had zero doubts about his ability.
What is interesting about seeing these 18-year-olds from Canada play so well is that while it is easy to think they have nothing to lose (which to a certain degree is true), it doesn’t really feel that way, does it?
Auger-Aliassime controlled the court and played winning patterns. Coric is obviously no scrub or third-rate player, and yet he was plainly outfoxed and outmaneuvered.
Is Auger-Aliassime too young to feel pressure at this stage of his career? Maybe… but even if you think he is too young to know better, he sure has moments when he looks like a much older tennis soul.
That is the heart — and soul — of why his Miami Open semifinal run at 18 is truly impressive.
We will soon see if he can turn a semifinal into a final on Friday.