What had started as one of the more intriguing US Open quarter-finals in years between a couple of the tour’s most promising young guns ended prematurely Tuesday night as Félix Auger-Aliassime abruptly went through to the last four at Flushing Meadows when the Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz retired down a set and a break after only 68 minutes.
The 12th-seeded Montrealer nicknamed FAA was leading 6-3, 3-1 before a nearly packed house at Arthur Ashe Stadium when Alcaraz called a halt to the proceedings following a visit from the trainer during the previous change of ends. It was not immediately clear why the 55th-ranked Alcaraz retired from the match, neither to Auger-Aliassime nor the roughly 20,000 spectators on hand, though he told reporters afterwards it was down to a problem in his upper right thigh.
“The right adductor is the principal problem for me,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough to end a great tournament like this. I mean, I had no choice to still playing. I mean, first of all I have to take care of my body, yeah, to still healthy, no? It a long match and, yeah, I didn’t feel good to still playing, so I had to retire.”
The 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime, who is coached by Toni Nadal, the uncle of he who needs no introduction, advances to a Friday date with second-seeded Daniil Medvedev, the 25-year-old Russian who booked a return trip to the semi-finals at the season-ending grand slam for a third consecutive year earlier in the day by stopping the surprise run of Dutch qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp by a 6-3, 6-0, 4-6, 7-5 scoreline.
With Tuesday’s imperfect outcome, Auger-Aliassime becomes the first US Open men’s semi-finalist from Canada in the tournament’s 140-year history and the youngest man from any country to reach the last four since 20-year-old Juan Martín del Potro won the 2009 title.
“I was expecting a tough battle, the best from him of course,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I didn’t see it coming. It’s unfortunate to finish like this. At the same time what he’s done has never been done here in the Open era. I think he can be very proud of himself, very positive heading back with a head high.”
Pressed on any further information on the retirement in the immediate aftermath, the world No 15 found himself at a loss.
“He didn’t say much,” Auger-Aliassime added. “I just told him I’m sorry for him. I didn’t ask what he had. Yeah, he didn’t say. He didn’t say anything.
“I said, ‘You’re such a great player. You’re an amazing player. You’ve got to keep going, keep pushing. You’re already doing amazing.’ There’s not much more to say.”
The 18-year-old Alcaraz came into Tuesday’s prime-time match on the heels of five-set wins over third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round and German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk in the fourth, which had made him the youngest US Open men’s quarter-finalist in the Open era, since the majors allowed professionals to compete with amateurs in 1968, and the youngest at the tournament period since Brazil’s Thomaz Koch at the 1963 US Championships. It also made him the youngest winner of back-to-back five-set matches at any major tournament since 16-year-old Michael Chang at the 1988 US Open.
Carlos Alcaraz reacts after losing a point during Tuesday night’s match. Photograph: John Angelillo/UPI/REX/Shutterstock
“I mean, to play two matches fifth sets in a row, play in a great level, in a great intensity like four hours, it’s really tough for me,” Alcaraz said. “I am not used to play these kind of matches in a row.
“Yeah, I think it’s really tough to recover to the next matches.”
In a nightcap further endowed with main-event feel following Aryna Sabalenka’s choppy, uncomplicated straight-sets win over Barbora Krejčíková, both Auger-Aliassime and Alcaraz held in their first five service games until the Canadian broke serve in a seesaw sixth with a blistering forehand his opponent couldn’t return into play. Auger-Aliassime looked almost untouchable when he connected on his first serve, winning his first 11 points on the trot when getting it in.
Auger-Aliassime, who crunched seven aces in the first set, went on to serve out the opener, then broke in the opening game of the second, but at no time was either player’s fitness in question until Alcaraz first summoned a physiotherapist during the changeover after holding for 2-1.
From there Auger-Aliassime held serve for 3-1, punctuating the game with a 125mph ace down the middle, after which Alcaraz informed the chair umpire he could no longer continue and the message was conveyed to the stunned audience on Ashe.
No one was more surprised by the sudden finish than Auger-Aliassime, who said he had no indication Alcaraz was ailing until after the towel was thrown. “Maybe at the beginning of the second set a little bit,” he said. “But not so much. I actually didn’t know he called the physio. I was about to get up and go and play. I saw that he called the physio. I thought it’s just a little something. I didn’t really see anything. Either I was too focused on my game or I’m not seeing things.”
Auger-Aliassime is joined in the semi-final stage by compatriot Leylah Annie Fernandez, who scored a surprise 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) win over No 5 seed Elina Svitolina earlier Tuesday on the same court.
Fernandez, whose father was born in Ecuador and whose mother is Filipino-Canadian, became the youngest semi-finalist at Flushing Meadows since Maria Sharapova and the youngest player to defeat two opponents ranked in the WTA’s top five since Serena Williams at the 1999 US Open.
“It’s great,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s great for Canada. It’s great for Quebec. We’re both born in Montreal. I mean, I never thought a day like this would come. Both a little girl and a little boy from Montreal, both at the same time in the semi-finals of the US Open. It’s special.
“I hope the people back home appreciate the moment also. We do a lot. It’s great. But it would be amazing if we were both in a final, right?”