TOKYO — It was far from the performance Felix Auger-Aliassime was hoping for in his Olympic debut.
Playing on centre court of Tokyo's Ariake Tennis Park on Sunday, Auger-Aliassime was eliminated in just under two hours by a player ranked 190th in the world who was not even scheduled to compete.
Australian Max Purcell, replacing the injured Andy Murray, upset the 15th-ranked Canadian in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the first round.
The 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime never got into any kind of rhythm, except for a three-game winning streak that saw him go from down 1-3 to up 4-3 in the second set.
The Montrealer's performance otherwise did not live up to expectations.
"It's difficult to explain," said the ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime a few minutes after the loss. "You have to give credit to Max for playing such a good match. Even if he's more of a doubles player, he's dangerous, he serves well.
“Despite everything, I still had chances to do better in this match. I had a very bad service game in the first set, which cost me. After that, I did not find ways to get back into the match. A little in the second set, but it was not enough."
Purcell broke the Canadian to take a 4-3 lead in the first set and won all four points in the next game to go up 5-3.
"I played with confidence," said Purcell. "I just had two great tournaments in singles. I won a Challenger just last week.
"I need to make the most every time I get in. I went out there thinking I could win, and I think I had just as much to lose as Felix in my mind."
The Australian earned another break early in the second set to take a 3-1 lead. Auger-Aliassime then strung together his best tennis of the encounter, winning three games in a row to give renewed hope to his team gathered around the court.
But it was short-lived. The two players exchanged serves until the tiebreaker, where Auger-Aliassime fell flat.
“You always have to try to find solutions, to adapt," said the Canadian. "It's difficult, we don't always play our best tennis. That was the case today.
“My first service game has been good. There was no reason (to struggle today). In training (Saturday), I served well. (Sunday,) I didn't have a lot of good first serves, I couldn't find the right pace.
“In the second set I started to serve better, but it was almost too late. He had gained confidence, he was leading the game and I was going through it. I tried to find solutions, but it didn't work out."
Auger-Aliassime was supposed to face Murray, but the two-time defending Olympic champion withdrew a few hours before his clash with the Quebecer.
Murray, 104th in the world, suffered a quadriceps injury in his right leg. He is still lined up to play the doubles portion of the tournament with teammate Joe Salisbury.
"It’s not easy for anybody, adjusting at the last second," said Frank Dancevic, Auger-Aliassime's coach. "You think you're going to play one guy and somebody else comes, a different game style than Andy. So it was just a little bit of mental adjustment."
Auger-Aliassime now turns his attention to mixed doubles, which kicks off later this week, with teammate Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa.
“It doesn't change that much for me. Whether I play against Andy or Max, I had to play a good game" said Auger-Aliassime. "I would have had to find solutions.
"It for sure hurts. Coming here, I had the possibility of having a better tournament. Leaving so early is a bit unexpected and I am very disappointed. I have to accept it and I will try to bounce back in the mixed doubles."
Purcell will next face Germany's Dominik Koepfer, who downed Argentina's Facundo Bagnis 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2021.
Frederic Daigle, The Canadian Press