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Auger-Aliassime helps Team World to third straight win on first day of Laver Cup

VANCOUVER — Twice Frenchman Gael Monfils came to Felix Auger-Aliassime's side of the court to remonstrate with him during their Laver Cup match. Twice Auger-Aliassime ignored the taunts from his opponent.
Team World's Ben Shelton celebrates after winning a game against Team Europe's Arthur Fils during the second set of a Laver Cup tennis singles match, in Vancouver, on Friday, September 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — Twice Frenchman Gael Monfils came to Felix Auger-Aliassime's side of the court to remonstrate with him during their Laver Cup match.

Twice Auger-Aliassime ignored the taunts from his opponent.

"At the end of the day, the goal is to get through and win," said Auger-Aliassime about the confrontation. "I take all matches seriously and want to compete and win and have fun doing it."

Auger-Aliassime beat Monfils 6-4, 6-3 as Team World won the first three singles matches of the international tournament on Friday.

Monfils repeatedly played to the crowd, cupping his ear to hear cheers or sitting on advertising hoardings along the edge of the black court at Rogers Arena and shrugging to the crowd when a call didn't go his way.

The French player was heard on mic telling Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg that he "was here to have fun" and appeared frustrated by the referee's calls throughout the match.

"It's competition. Things got a little bit heated in the moment with tension," said Auger-Aliassime when asked about the response.

The Canadian said he was taking the competition seriously and downplayed mind games from his opponent, adding that he was focused on abiding by the rules of the tournament.

"I think the Laver Cup has the potential to be taken very seriously, not just now but also in the future," said Auger-Aliassime. "We're just taking this seriously and things got heated for a couple of games.

"Gael is somebody I appreciate, so there's no tension outside of what just happened."

It was a rematch between Auger-Aliassime and Monfils after they played against one another at the Laver Cup three years ago.

"He was the quickest player I had ever played against," said Auger-Aliassime before Friday's match. "His defensive skill and his court coverage was something I had never seen before."

And Monfils made the Canadian work for it throughout the match. He repeatedly hit cross court volleys in an attempt to put Auger-Aliassime on the back foot.

But the Montreal native thrived on serving, with an 85 per cent winning percentage on first serve followed by 64 per cent on the winning percentage for second serves.

He added to that with a dominant net game, with 15 net points to Monfils' five.

Auger-Aliassime's win made it three in a row for Team World on the first day for the first time at the Laver Cup.

Ben Shelton and Francisco Cerundolo also claimed wins for Team World on Friday, as did the doubles pairing of Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe.

Shelton defeated Arthur Fils 7-6 (4), 6-1 and Cerundolo added to that with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Alejandro Davidovich-Fokina.

Paul and Tiafoe topped Fils and Andrey Rublev 6-3, 4-6, 10-6.

Shelton won 85 per cent of first-serve points and had the only two breaks of the match, both coming in the second set in the opening game of the tournament.

"I thought it was a great match. Pretty high level from the start," he said.

Fils, a 19-year-old from France making his Laver Cup debut, was up 4-1 in the first set tiebreaker before Shelton stormed back with six straight points to take the first set.

"I thought it was really big for me in the first set to stay with him all the way," said Shelton. "When you're down early in a tiebreaker and you get it back to even, you feel like you have the momentum.

"From there at that point in the tiebreak, I got really confident and it kind of blended into the second set as well."

The American carried that momentum into the second set, scoring the first break of the match to go up 3-1 and winning out from there.

Shelton's points received sustained cheers from the crowd at Rogers Arena, with the American repeatedly turning towards the crowd and pumping his fist after scoring.

Shelton's win marked the first time Team World has won the opening match at the Laver Cup.

Cerundolo thrived on his serve in his match against Davidovich-Fokina with four aces, but struggled to finish off his opponent.

Roger Federer said at ceremony held to honour his contributions to tennis and the Laver Cup that he would be interested in coaching Team Europe one day, as long as he had the blessing of Bjorg.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2023.

Nick Wells, The Canadian Press