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Tsitsipas chasing first ATP 500 title; Auger-Aliassime trying to break Tour duck

In Rotterdam, the Greek ended the run of qualifier Jiri Lehecka while Auger-Aliassime took out Andrey Rublev

Stefanos Tsitsipas joy Rotterdam AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Something has to give when Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Felix Auger-Aliassime for the title in the ABN/AMRO World Indoor Tournament on Sunday.

For world No 4 Tsitsipas, who has reached a Grand Slam final, won the ATP Finals and lifted the Monte Carlo Masters 1000, it will be an eighth chance to win an ATP 500 title after seven previous defeats in finals. For Auger-Aliassime it will be a ninth opportunity to win his first ATP Tour singles title.

Tsitsipas booked his place in the final after he ended the incredible run of Czech qualifier Jiri Lehecka with a hard-fought three-set win to reach the final.

World No 137 Lehecka, who will break into the world’s top 100 for the first time on Monday, won the first set and was the better player early in the second but Tsitsipas found his game when he needed it, snatching the second and then pulling away in the third for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 win.

“He was really pushing me,” Tsitsipas said in an on-court interview. “I did not know what to expect so I was trying to figure out his patterns and his game. He was playing incredibly well after the first serve, pressing and attacking like I had never seen before. I had to stay in the match and I managed to survive.”

He’ll play either Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime in the final after he came from behind to beat defending champion Andrey Rublev 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-2.

Tsitsipas hoping to make it eighth time lucky in a 500 final

When Tstisipas lost in the final in Barcelona in 2018, he was well beaten by a rampant Rafael Nadal but he left the Spanish city doubtless thinking that it would not be long before he won an ATP 500 title.

In truth, his opponents in ATP 500 finals have not been mugs. He lost to Roger Federer in Dubai in 2019 and Dominic Thiem in Beijing the same year. In 2020, he missed out to Novak Djokovic in Dubai and to Rublev in Hamburg and last year, he found Alexander Zverev too good on the day in Acapulco and he was edged out by Nadal in Barcelona.

More importantly, perhaps, for Tsitsipas, it is his first final of 2022 and in fact, it’s his first final since he came within one set of winning his first Grand Slam title at Roland-Garros last summer.

Auger-Aliassime looking to break his duck

No one disputes the talent of Auger-Aliassime but until the Canadian wins a title, questions will be asked of his mentality in the biggest moments.

The 21-year-old, ranked No 9, has not only lost all eight of his previous finals, he has failed to win a set in any of them.

But after a consistent 2021, in which he reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, semi-finals at the US Open and quarters again in 2022 at the Australian Open, he’s heading in the right direction.

Tsitsipas has won five of their previous seven meetings, having lost their first two.

Lehecka set to break world’s top 100

For Lehecka, it was an end to the best week of his life, the 20-year-old qualifying for the main draw and then beating Denis Shapovalov, Botic van der Zandschulp and Lorenzo Musetti to reach the semi-finals in his first ATP main draw.

He was the lowest-ranked semi-finalist in Rotterdam since Omar Camporese of Italy in 1995 but he will find himself ranked in the top 100 come Monday.

He’ll also have a couple of days to check out the reaction to his brilliant run in Rotterdam, with the tournament itself offering its own congratulations and appreciation for his two-handed backhand.

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