Felix Auger-Aliassime’s first match with “Uncle” Toni Nadal as coach was a forgettable one. Up 4-2 in the first set before rain halted the day’s play in Monte Carlo, the Canadian lost all his momentum and fell in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 6-1. While there’s no doubt the unfortunate rain delay affected the first-set outcome, there’s no excuse for a player with Auger-Aliassime’s talent and firepower to lose a set 6-1. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember that the Canadian is just 20-years-old, because his game has always been so far beyond his young age.
But he’ll need to find his clay-court form quickly, as his Wednesday opponent, Lorenzo Musetti, is proving to be a borderline elite dirt baller. At just 19-years-old, Musetti owns an 8-4 clay-court record with wins over Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, Daniel Evans and Pablo Cuevas.
Musetti and his gorgeous one-handed backhand are a welcome sight, especially in an age where the one-hander is becoming a dying breed.
But Auger-Aliassime hits the ball huge, and will try and deny Musetti the necessary time to wind up his Gasquet-like stroke. It will be fascinating to see how the Italian handles the Canadian’s unrelenting pace.
According to the oddsmakers, this match is a pick-em, with Auger-Aliassime listed as an ever-so-slight -115 favorite. While betting on the streaky Canadian can certainly be scary, there’s something about these first encounters between NextGen stars and more established young guns like Auger-Aliassiime.
Losing to five-time clay court title winner Garin is one thing, losing to Musetti to mark consecutive first-round exits is another. In the end, expect the Canadian to will his way to a hard fought victory over the undeniably talented Italian.
The Pick: Felix Auger-Aliassime