Roman Safiullin is producing the magic this week in Marseille.
The Russian had come through tough three-setters against Alexei Popyrin and Tomas Machac to reach his first ATP Tour quarter-final, but he showed no signs of fatigue or nerves as he outplayed the top seed from the start.
“It’s great to beat a guy like Stefanos, he’s a top player,” Safiullin said after the match. “It feels great to show good tennis today. This was my first time qualifying for an ATP tournament as well, so to be in the semi-finals feels amazing.
“I’m a bit tired because it’s emotional and it was a big win for me.”
It was an uncharacteristically sloppy performance from Tsitsipas, but he was regularly forced into errors by the ball-striking and variety of the World No. 163’s game.
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The Russian showed he meant business early, bringing a high level to the opening set as he broke for 3-2 and remained composed to serve it out, converting his first set point with a clean backhand winner.
An extraordinary opening to the second set saw Tsitsipas save five break points in the opening game, as the Russian refused to let his opponent settle on serve. Although the Greek did manage to hold, Safiullin had another five opportunities in the next Tsitsipas service game, and he remained aggressive to finally complete the break.
Qualifier Safiullin was strong on serve to ensure that early break was enough to seal the set and the match, running out a deserved winner in one hour, 35 minutes. The Russian lost just four points behind his first serve in the match, with Tsitsipas creating just one break opportunity.
The Canadian’s rich vein of form continued as he defeated fifth seed Ilya Ivashka 6-3, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals in Marseille for a second time.
– Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 18, 2022
Belarusian Ivashka reached the semi-finals in Marseille himself in 2018 but he never looked likely to repeat that feat on Friday as the confident Auger-Aliassime dealt with anything the Belarusian threw at him to claim victory in one hour, 35 minutes.
After taking the first set there was some concern early in the second as Auger-Aliassime received treatment on his ankle, but the World No. 9 brushed it off to break Ivashka twice and reach the brink of victory.
World No. 49 Ivashka battled hard, reclaiming one break back and making Auger-Aliassime stay focused until the end by saving five match points before he planted a backhand into the net on the sixth to give the Canadian his 14th match victory of 2022.
Auger-Aliassime was pleased with how he had handled the difficult moments. “Ilya’s a great player,” he said after the match. “He won a title last year, he’s always dangerous, he serves well. I had a difficult start for my part, serving badly, but I’ve been returning well so I stayed calm, and I think I played a great first set after that.
“The second set could have gone a little bit easier. I got a little bit nervous towards the end but the most important thing is I got the victory.”