LONDON (Reuters) - Those tennis fans who saw Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Vasek Pospisil in an all-Canadian first round clash at Wimbledon on Monday might one day look back on it as an “I was there” moment.
The teenager they call “AA” had never won a Grand Slam match before, despite being 19th seed on his Wimbledon debut and tipped this week as a future world number one by none other than American great John McEnroe.
After some early trouble against his compatriot, the 18-year-old opened his account with a 5-7 6-2 6-4 6-3 win to become the first man born in 2,000 or later to win a Grand Slam match.
It was just as well the newest of the new kids on the block survived because Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the two players expected to lead the new generation into a brave new era, both suffered chastening first-round defeats.
The 22-year-old sixth seed Zverev already has 11 singles titles but the German’s Grand Slam progress has been stuttering to say the least and a 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5 loss to powerful Czech qualifier Jiri Vesely continued a mediocre year.
Swashbuckling Greek 20-year-old Tsitsipas, tipped as the man most likely to break the Roger Federer/Rafa Nadal/Novak Djokovic stranglehold at the top, was then bundled out by Italian journeyman Thomas Fabbiano 6-4 3-6 6-4 6-7(8) 6-3.
Twelve months earlier in the third round here Tsitsipas had beaten the same player for the loss of seven games.
Seventh-seeded Tsitsipas saved two match points in the fourth-set breaker but was scathing of his own performance, saying that only his fighting spirit had allowed him two sets.
Candidly he added that the disappointment of losing a fourth-round epic against Stan Wawrinka at the French Open, a match in which he played superbly, lingered.
“It was very, very difficult to overcome that match,” Tsitsipas, who became the first Greek man to reach a Grand Slam semi-final at this year’s Australian Open, told reporters.
“I was really disappointed. I am disappointed now. People expected things from me. I didn’t deliver. When you just ruin everything by yourself, it’s devastating.”
Zverev won the ATP Tour Finals title last November, beating Federer and Djokovic back-to-back, but has stalled this year, although he did reach the French Open quarter-finals — still the furthest he has been in 18 Grand Slams.
“I didn’t lose this match on tennis. It’s just, my confidence is below zero right now,” he said.
While Tsitsipas and Zverev fretted, Auger-Aliassime once again showed why people are getting so excited about him.
With a damaging serve, silky smooth movement and easy power from the baseline, the Canadian has rocketed up the rankings to 21st having begun 2019 outside the top 100.
Last week he beat Tsitsipas en route to the Queen’s Club semi-finals, after which the Greek said Auger-Aliassime was the most difficult opponent he had ever faced.
Despite losing the opening set against his Davis Cup team mate on a sun-baked Court 12, there was never a flicker of panic as Auger-Aliassime raised his level a notch and took charge.
The 29-year-old Pospisil, once regarded alongside former Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic as a traiblazer for Canadian tennis, was effusive in his praise.
“Physically he’s extremely strong and he’s very process driven. He has a really good team around him and a good approach, and I think the sky’s the limit,” he said.
“I mean, I love Felix. I think he has such a good approach. I don’t really know how Nadal was. I remember he was very mature when he came up in his teens.
“But Felix for sure he’s the most mature player for his age that I have seen. He has so much potential.”
Auger-Aliassime said it was a relief to get his first Grand Slam win but reckoned title talk was “crazy”.
“I’m not saying I’m here to lose, but if I can go all the way, I’ll go all the way,” he said.
Auger-Aliassime, seeded 19th, plays 20-year-old Frenchman Corentin Moutet next after he beat Grigor Dimitrov in five sets.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris