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Two retirements and a walkover: Auger-Aliassime's "crazy" run to Madrid final

Two retirements and a walkover: Auger-Aliassime's
© Reuters
For the third time at the 2024 Madrid Open, Felix Auger-Aliassime earns a victory thanks to an opponent's injury, as Jiri Lehecka retires from their semi-final.

For the third time at the 2024 Madrid Open, a match involving Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime either did not start or failed to go the distance, and the 23-year-old was the beneficiary of his opponent's physical woes once again on Friday.

Auger-Aliassime can certainly sympathise with his stricken foes, having struggled with a knee problem in the 2023 season, and the Canadian may have wished to have reached his first Masters final in less "crazy" circumstances.

After coming from a set down in his opener with Yoshihito Nishioka and making light work of Adrian Mannarino in the second round, Auger-Aliassime thrashed Jakub Mensik in their opening set before the Czech man retired at the start of the second, although he merited his place in the quarters by sinking Casper Ruud in straight sets.

Many felt that Auger-Aliassime's clay journey was destined to come to an end against top seed Jannik Sinner, but the Italian's withdrawal with a hip concern earned his Canadian foe an immediate route into the semis of an ATP 1000 tournament for the first time since Paris 2022.

There, the 23-year-old would appropriately meet a man who also benefitted from the alarming wave of springtime injuries, as Lehecka took the first set against Daniil Medvedev before his Russian counterpart also called it quits.

Such bewildering circumstances were indeed a harbinger of doom for Auger-Aliassime and Lehecka's seemingly cursed semi-final, where the pair were level at 3-3 in the first set before the latter began feeling his back.

Jiri Lehecka pictured at the Madrid Open on May 3, 2024© Reuters

Auger-Aliassime to face Andrey Rublev in Madrid final

Lehecka tried to push through the pain following treatment from the physio, but the 30th seed became the latest victim of the injury demons haunting the Spanish capital, sending Auger-Aliassime through to the final of a tournament where he has completed just 50% of his matches.

While most players would perhaps punch the air, let out a battle cry or turn to their box in celebration after reaching a Masters final, Auger-Aliassime could only look on in sympathy and disbelief before embracing a tearful Lehecka at the net.

"It's crazy. I don't know if I's every happened to a player before. It's kind of a weird situation to be in on my part," Auger-Aliassime told the crowd after earning another victory - of sorts - in strange circumstances.

"It's never happened to me in my career so far, a withdrawal or a walkover or retirement of this sort, and back-to-back like this. I couldn't believe what was happening when I saw his back blocked on him.

"I feel really bad for him. I've had injuries myself, and we can all imagine how it feels to come out on a night like this, hoping to win to go through, having a battle with your opponent, and not being able to play. I have a lot of empathy for Jiri, and I can't do anything but try to prepare for Sunday."

In contrast, Andrey Rublev and Taylor Fritz had to go the distance in all of their matches to reach the final four, where the former followed up his sensational defeat of holder Carlos Alcaraz with a 6-4 6-3 win over the American.

Before Rublev and Auger-Aliassime clash in the men's championship match, Iga Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka square off on Saturday in a repeat of last year's women's singles final, which the Belarusian won.

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