WIMBLEDON, England — As Friday dawned on the All-England Club, the odds Canada could have two men in the singles round-of-16 for the first time ever, and take part in the legendary Manic Monday at Wimbledon, seemed very good indeed.
Fifteenth seed Milos Raonic held up his end with an impressive 7-6 (1), 6-2, 6-1 win over a taller, younger version of himself, six-foot-11 American Reilly Opelka.
But Felix Auger-Aliassime couldn’t seize the day against Ugo Humbert of France.
The 18-year-old fell 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in two hours and 10 minutes Friday evening against a player just two years older, who also was making his Wimbledon main draw debut this year.
After the match, a disconsolate Auger-Aliassime termed his performance “embarrassing.”
“I feel like the whole match was just tough. Maybe the first few games I started OK, but I just felt pretty bad out there,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“It’s weird to describe. But the pressure got to me,” he added. “He did what he had to do. He was just solid. But from my end it was pretty embarrassing.”
This is a new phase of Auger-Aliassime’s career, where he no longer comes in as the hunter, but has become the hunted.
He was the 19th seed at his first Wimbledon, despite never having won a singles match at a Grand Slam tournament so far in his career. And he was playing his first professional season on grass.
But Auger-Aliassime was favoured against countryman Vasek Pospisil in the first round, and he pulled through. He was the heavy favourite against French qualifier Corentin Moutet in the second round, and he got through that one as well.
But against Humbert, a wiry lefty he has practised with before, he came onto the new, expanded No. 1 Court with his nerves on the fine edge of frayed. And even though he served for the second set, the nerves never settled down.
“A lot of things went wrong today. I didn’t have the right state of mind. I felt a little empty — not physically. But I couldn’t find solutions. I didn’t know what to play. It was all very complicated. You don’t know where to go, what to do. It was one of those days.”
So Humbert, not Auger-Aliassime, will have a date on “Manic Monday” with No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic, on famed Centre Court.
For Raonic, a decade older, making the second week of Wimbledon is very much a comfort zone.
He has done it five of the last six years the only exception was when he was ousted by an in-form Nick Kyrgios in the third round in 2015.
As it happens, had Raonic won that match, that Wimbledon milestone would have been reached that year as Pospisil ended up reaching the quarterfinals.
Also in 2015, 17-year-old Opelka won the junior boys’ singles title.
But it took him four more years to make his main-draw singles debut. The American is sponsored by the same clothing manufacturer as Raonic the Canadian knows him well and has followed his progress.
“He can make anybody uncomfortable because he can take the racket out of their hand. So obviously, for him, consistency is going to be the most important thing. And obviously health,” Raonic said.
Both players served over 135 miles per hour regularly. The difference was that while Opelka could barely get a look at the return on Raonic’s first serve, the Canadian had much more success on Opelka’s big delivery.
Raonic returned to the practice court after the match to hit for 10 minutes with coach Fabrice Santoro — just to get a little rhythm back in his groundstrokes after the battle of big servers.
While Auger-Aliassime heads home after what was, overall, a highly successful debut season on the grass, Raonic will face No. 26 seed Guido Pella on Monday.
The 29-year-old left-hander from Argentina is having his best-ever Wimbledon in only his fourth career trip.
Pella upset 2018 semifinalist and No. 4 seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4) on Monday. So he’ll come in having had recent experience against another very powerful server.
In women’s doubles second-round play, the fourth-seeded team of Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and China’s Yifan Xu beat Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine and Arina Rodionova of Australia 6-2, 6-1.
Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil and Australia’s Matthew Ebden were beaten 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (3) by Joe Salisbury of Great Britain and Rajeev Ram of the U.S. in their second-round men’s doubles match.