Felix notches gritty comeback

 - Chris Oddo

The Canadian mounted an inspiring rebound for his first victory from two sets down

Felix Auger-Aliassime, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime entered this year's draw seeking his first victory at Roland-Garros in his third appearance. Juan Pablo Varillas, a 122nd-ranked qualifier from Lima, Peru, had never played a Grand Slam match or faced a top-10 player before.

Something had to give as the pair met for the first time on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Not long after No.6 seed Ons Jabeur became the first seeded casualty of the tournament, the 21-year-old Canadian rallied to avoid a similar fate with a stirring, 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 triumph.

The victory marked Auger-Aliassime's first comeback from two-sets-to-love down, and he improves to 4-2 lifetime in five-setters.

Story of the match

Sunday's tilt started as a coming out party for the Peruvian. Scrambling to and fro and cracking lasers off of both wings, the 26-year-old Varillas took charge from the first ball.

As Auger-Aliassime struggled to find any solutions to the sizzling game of his foe, the 26-year-old ripped a forehand winner to take a double-break lead 30 minutes into the match, and easily served out the opening set minutes later, 6-2.

Varillas, who had failed to qualify for the main draw in his previous six Grand Slam appearances, continued the assault.

He dominated the second set as well. Though he temporarily missed out on a chance for a double-break lead with the Canadian serving at 1-3, the feisty baseliner capitalised two games later to lead 5-2. The set firmly in control, Varillas held easily to take a two-sets-to-love lead.

Juan Pablo Varillas, Roland Garros 2022, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The sun, which did make a few cameos in an otherwise overcast day, would shine on Auger-Aliassime from that point on.

With his coaches, Frederic Fontang and Toni Nadal, urging his every positive step from their courtside box, Auger-Aliassime quickly tilted the court in his favour in the third and fourth sets, dictating with his first serve and putting the Peruvian on his back foot.

Varillas impressively stiffened his resolve in the fifth and the pair marched past the three-hour mark at 3-3, the result hanging loosely in the balance. But Varillas would find himself under the gun shortly thereafter.

Auger-Aliassime pushed for four break points in the eighth game of the decider and converted the fourth to lock down the critical break.

Moments later he produced a poised hold at love to complete a wild opening-day ride and set up a second-round clash against either Aslan Karatsev or Ugo Carabelli Camilo.

Key stats

Auger-Aliassime turned the match with his first serve. Varillas broke the Canadian four times on nine opportunities in the opening set and won 16 of 20 second-serve return points. But Auger-Aliassime found his signature stroke in set three and four, winning 26 of 28 first-serve points and not facing a single break point.

Set five was more of the same, with Auger-Aliassime riding the hot hand with the serve. He won 15 of 16 first-serve points, making it a total of 41 of 44 first-serve points won across sets three, four and five.

The young Canadian finished with 52 winners to 23 for Varillas, to deny the hard-charging Peruvian his first ever Grand Slam win.

What the players said

Auger-Aliassime: "It's a dream for me, to play here, it's an honour. Court Philippe-Chatrier, first victory at Roland-Garros, I had to work hard to obtain it - it was a good opponent, who played a good match."

It has been a season of meaningful victories for the 21-year-old. He won his first ATP title at Rotterdam in February, ending an eight-match losing streak in finals. On Sunday he earned another rite of passage by coming back from two sets down for the first time.

"Very satisfied with the way I finished. Even more with the ambiance at the finish, which was incredible," an elated Auger-Aliassime told the crowd.

Auger-Aliassime said he was able to turn the contest by changing tactics and tightening up his execution on serve.

"I needed a bit more space and a bit more time," Auger-Aliassime said of dealing with Varillas. "My opponent at the beginning was playing very fast, very aggressive, was touching the good zone, hitting with good length. I have a few tools in my game to help me get more time. After that I was able to come back a bit, and I served better and better, and that helped make things easier for me as the match went on."

Varillas: "I think I made a great two first sets, great tennis, great level. Maybe he's more used to these types of matches. This is my first Grand Slam so maybe it was physically it was tough for me in the last three sets but it I think even if I do like ten hours of fitness every day [it wouldn't have helped]. It's being here. Playing these types of matches, playing this type of events. I think that experience that he has of playing these matches, helped him to win.

"I think it's a great experience for me to be playing at this level, I think I have the level to keep improving in the rankings, keep playing these types of tournaments and getting used to this."