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Felix Auger-Aliassime reacts after defeating Vasek Pospisil during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Stade IGA on Aug. 6, 2019.Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Félix Auger-Aliassime has dreamed of walking onto centre court at the Rogers Cup in his hometown.

His singles debut at the tournament very nearly turned into a nightmare.

The rising Canadian tennis star got all he could handle from countryman Vasek Pospisil in Tuesday’s first round before securing a dramatic 6-2, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3) victory.

Auger-Aliassime looked nervous at times, but eventually got the job done in front of an adoring crowd at IGA Stadium to advance at the US$5.7-million ATP Tour Masters 1000 series event.

Ranked 21st in the world to match a career-high, the Montreal native was in complete control early, but Pospisil – 207th over all and working his way into form after a long injury absence – battled in a back-and-forth second set that saw the Vancouver product ultimately grab a hard-fought tiebreak on centre court.

With Auger-Aliassime up 4-3 in the third set despite a number of unforced errors, the 29-year-old Pospisil appeared to cramp up. He double faulted and sent his next shot into the next, but recovered to even things up once again before the match went to another tiebreak.

With the partisan crowd urging him on, Auger-Aliassime fired a huge backhand passing shot with Pospisil serving to go up 4-2, pumping his fist in celebration. The teen then pushed ahead 6-3 and sealed it when Pospisil sent a shot long.

The Canadians shook hands and patted each other on the shoulder at the net after a match that lasted 2 hours 33 minutes – much longer than most observers expected.

After doing a couple of TV interviews, Auger-Aliassime was joined on court by former Montreal Expos pitcher Claude Raymond for some tennis baseball. Montreal’s renovated Rogers Cup venue is the former Jarry Park Stadium, the team’s home from 1969 to 1976.

With the 82-year-old Raymond pitching from roughly where the mound would have been located and Auger-Aliassime sporting an Expos jersey, the youngster hit some balls into the crowd to lightheartedly cap what had been a tense afternoon.

Auger-Aliassime will now take on 19th-ranked Milos Raonic in another all-Canadian tilt in the second round. The 28-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., defeated France’s Lucas Pouille on Monday.

Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont. – a 20-year-old ranked 32nd – also won his first-round match Monday and will meet No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria next.

The women’s side of the 2019 bracket is being played in Toronto. The tournament alternates between the cities every year.

Set to turn 19 on Thursday, Auger-Aliassime came into the afternoon showdown with Pospisil having already won 28 matches this season, including a 12-4 record in his past four tournaments.

Auger-Aliassime, who started 2019 ranked 106th with just six tour-level victories to his name, has reached three ATP finals in the past six months, but is still looking for that first title.

He’s hoping that will come in Montreal.

In other early action Tuesday, 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic advanced with a 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over qualifier Bradley Klahn of the United States. Seeded 14th in Montreal, Cilic made the quarter-finals at last year’s Rogers Cup in Toronto before falling to eventual champion Rafael Nadal of Spain.

Hard-hitting American John Isner, the No. 12 seed, also moved on with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) win over Australia’s Jordan Thompson.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev, the 2017 Rogers Cup champion in Montreal, and Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, who won last week’s Citi Open in Washington, headlined Tuesday’s evening action in their respective matches.

Zverev is ranked No. 7 in the world and seeded third. Kyrgios is ranked 27th.

Nadal, the world No. 2 and top seed at this edition of the tournament, is the clear favourite with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer skipping the event.

The Spaniard is expected to open his tournament Wednesday in the second round.

Pospisil is attempting to rediscover his form after spending eight months on the sidelines with a serious back injury. He reached the semi-finals in Montreal in 2013, where he lost to Raonic. Auger-Aliassime, who had just turned 13 at the time, said Monday he remembers the match well.

Auger-Aliassime entered Tuesday with a 2-0 record against Pospisil – the last of three Canadian wild-card entries to be bounced in the first round.

He beat Pospisil in straight sets at Indian Wells last year and again in the first round at Wimbledon in July, winning 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in a match that lasted nearly three hours.

The pair played doubles together for the first time Monday, falling to French duo of Jérémy Chardy and Fabrice Martin in straight sets.

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