Felix Finding Form, Zhang Advances In Tokyo

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Is this the week Felix Auger-Aliassime finds his form?

The Canadian backed up his first-round win against Aleksandar Vukic with a 6-4, 6-1 triumph against Sebastian Ofner at the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Championships on Wednesday.

Auger-Aliassime arrived in Tokyo having won just twice in his past 11 outings. The last time he won consecutive matches was in Indian Wells in March, when he reached the quarter-finals.

The 23-year-old ensured that run would end in Japan, though, producing a clean-hitting display to down Ofner after one hour and 35 minutes. Auger-Aliassime rallied from a break down in a tight first set before he raced away in the second set, winning the final six games of the match.

“I need results like this,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I believe in my game and I believe in myself that I have what it takes to win at this level. I have done it before but it is about doing it and having a lot of belief and a positive mind. I am happy that my level is translating to the match court after a couple of months.”

Into his fifth tour-level quarter-final of the season, the World No. 17 will next face second seed Casper Ruud or American Marcos Giron.

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In first-round action, Zhang Zhizhen earned revenge against Hubert Hurkacz. The Pole defeated Zhang en route to the title in Shanghai last week, but the Chinese star ensured history would not repeat itself at the ATP 500 hard-court event.

Zhang fired 10 aces, won 76 per cent (39/51) of his first-serve points and broke Hurkacz's serve three times to advance 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) in two hours and 17 minutes.

Hurkacz rose to 11th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin following the run to his second ATP Masters 1000 title in Shanghai. The Pole is 335 points behind eighth-placed Holger Rune, who currently occupies the final qualification spot. His defeat is a major dent to his Nitto ATP Finals qualification hopes.

The 27-year-old Zhang is enjoying the best season of his career, having earned 19 tour-level wins. He became the first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finalist from China in May in Madrid and in July rose to No. 52 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, the highest position ever held by anyone from the East Asian country. He beat Casper Ruud at the US Open to become the first Chinese man to beat a Top 5 opponent.

Aiming to make more waves this week, he will next face Aslan Karatsev.

Tommy Paul kept alive his Nitto ATP Finals qualification hopes with a 6-4, 6-2 win against Mackenzie McDonald. The American is 12th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, 515 points behind Rune. If Paul wins his first title of the season this week, he could rise to ninth if his direct rivals fall early in Tokyo.

Paul has now earned 39 wins this year, matching his previous personal-best tally (2022). He will aim to make it 40 wins when he plays Ben Shelton or Jordan Thompson in the quarter-finals.

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