Felix Auger-Aliassime/Fotojump

Canadian rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime upset 2016 Rio Open champion Pablo Cuevas and paved his way to became, at 18 years 6 months and 16 days, the youngest player to reach an ATP 500 final.

This Sunday in Rio, at 5pm, at Court Guga Kuerten, the Canadian will take on another finalist first-timer: Serbian Laslo Djere, 23.

One of the most celebrated players of the ATP NexGen, Auger-Aliassime needed two hours to score 6/3, 3/6 and 6/3 and defeat the experienced Uruguayan, who saved three match points.

“It feels great, the match was pretty tough, pretty complete today, I felt good from the start and thought I could have a shot to win. I was feeling my shots well and serving well too. But then he came back strong at the second set and I felt a lot of pressure from him. And then in the third set I came back strong again, I was able to break him early and then hold my serve. It was tough to finish when you’re so close to the line but I managed to stay calm and got the job done”, said the Canadian.

This Saturday’s win crowned an excellent week for Auger-Aliassime in Rio. The Canadian started by beating a Top 20 for the second time in his career: Fabio Fognini in the first round (previously he had already defeated Lucas Pouille). Then he took on Chilean Christian Garin and NextGen and Rafael Nadal’s pupil Jaume Munar before stunning Cuevas.

“I felt the effect’s of yesterday’s long match [against Albert Ramos-Vinola], I was a bit slower and with low energy. Felix is an aggressive player who took advantage of that. He served really well, he played well and deserved the win. He is very talented and I’m sure he’s got a bright future ahead”, said Cuevas, 33.

Auger-Aliassime received a wild card to play in Rio this year because of his impressive performance recently. He already has four Challenger tour titles and had a fantastic performance in the Canadian victory against Slovakia at the Davis Cup, guaranteeing the qualification of his country to the finals.

With the win over Cuevas he became the youngest ATP 500 finalist since the level was established, in 2009 _previous record holder was Alexander Zverev, who made it to the final in Halle in 2016 at 19 years and 2 months.

And since the Canadian started playing in Rio he became a crowd favorite.

“It’s been great. Every time you have a breakthrough as a young guy it’s a special moment and all the environment is important and from the first day I felt good in Rio, from the hotel I’m staying at, the places I’ve seen and the energy from the people. That’s really strong and I strongly believe that it has pushed me to where I am today, this week, and maybe I can give one last push with the support of the crowd tomorrow.”

As for the match this Sunday, Auger-Aliassime expects nothing less than a battle.

“Laslo had a great week also. I wouldn’t say I’m a heavy favorite, maybe to the crowd I’ll have their support, but it’s going to be a tough match. I haven’t played him yet, but I’ve seen what he’s doing and it’s going to be a battle. At the end for me, title or no title it’s not the most important thing. At the end I want to have a successful career every year and I don’t want to be remembered for a final or a title that I won when I was 18. I’m on the right track.”

Djere also plays his maiden final this Sunday

Laslo Djere/Fotojump

Laslo Djere earned a spot at his first ever ATP Tour final earlier this Saturday after his opponent, Aljaz Bedene, withdrew from the semifinals with an injured right leg.

Despite not having to play this Saturday, 23-year old Djere had an impressive week at the Rio Open. The Serbian got his first-ever Top 10 win over number one seed and 2017 champion Dominic Thiem in the first round, his first ever match in Rio.

After that he beat Taro Daniel from Japan and NexGen Casper Ruud in his way to his fourth career ATP Tour semi-final.

“Of course I din’t dream of reaching my first final this way and I feel really sorry for Aljaz and wish him the best”, said Djere. “But I had a great week here in Rio, I’m playing well and I’m looking forward to playing my first final. I feel prepared and look for a huge result tomorrow.”

As for his rival this Sunday, it will be the first time they play each other. “Felix is a young and very talented player. I watched him a few times, he’s been playing really well, has a big serve, big forehead. But I think I’m ready and prepared and I’ll do my best. Hopefully I can win my first final here in Rio”, said the Serbian, who began playing tennis at 5 to follow his now late dad.

“It wasn’t easy getting here. It’s really tough to became a professional tennis player, it doesn’t matter if you’re from Serbia or any other place. Conditions where I practiced were not ideal and I struggled a lot to get where I am today. When I was 15 mom was diagnosed with cancer, which was really tough for me, and she passed away two years later. And I lost my dad last December also to cancer. It’s not easy to be here at 23 not having parents, but I’m thankful for my younger sister and my girlfriend. I just want to make them proud.”

 

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