Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada reacts during his second round match against Alex Molcan of Slovakia at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Auger-Aliassime digs deep for major comeback at Aussie Open

They took different paths, but Canadians Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov have both advanced to the third round of the Australian Open.

It appeared, after uninspired 6-3, 6-3 setbacks, that sixth-seeded Auger-Aliassime of Montreal was going to become the second major upset of the 2023 Australian Open.

But Alex Molcan, the 25-year-old Slovakian singles star, sputtered and then collapsed, as Auger-Aliassime stormed back with spirited 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victories to avoid an early exit at Melbourne Park.

The tournament already lost its top seed and defending champion earlier in the day when Spain’s Rafael Nadal, hampered by a hip injury, fell 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to unseeded American Mackenzie McDonald.

Auger-Aliassime, who struggled out of the gates in the first round before bouncing Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver in four sets, started even slower against Molcan, but appeared by the fourth set to have run his rival out of gas.

“I had belief in myself after winning the third set. I had come back before and I felt I could do it again. But boy, it was a difficult day,” said Auger-Aliassime, who finished with 23 aces in the match that took three hours and three minutes to complete.

Auger-Aliassime is set to face Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina in the third round.

Meanwhile, Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., had an easier time of it on Wednesday with 6-3, 7-6, 7-5 victory over Japan’s Taro Daniel.

Shapovalov, seeded 20th at the tournament, fired eight aces to Daniel’s one and won 73 per cent of his first serves.

The Canadian also broke Daniel six times on nine attempts.

Shapovalov appeared flustered at times during the match, not with his opponent but rather with the loud heckling coming from stands at Court No. 2.

The world No. 22 complained to the umpire about the behaviour from at least one fan and suggested that the rowdiness was being fuelled by alcohol.

“It’s excessive,” Shapovalov told the official. “They had a beer too much and now they’re fooling around.”

Shapovalov will next face No. 10 Hubert Hurkaczvs of Poland, who outlasted Lorenzo Sonego of Italy 3-6, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a marathon match that drifted into the early hours of Thursday morning in Melbourne.

All the matches on Wednesday night were delayed by four to seven hours due to heavy rains and slippery courts.

Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ontario, who waited almost 6 1/2 hours to play, was ousted by Cristina Bucsa of Moldova 2-6, 7-6, 6-5.

Bucsa will meet the top-ranked Iga Swiatek of Poland in the third round.

Montreal’s Leylah Fernandez is scheduled to meet No. 4 Carolina Garcia of France in a second-round match scheduled for later today (10:30 p.m. ET).

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