Felix Auger-Aliassime Ready To Build On Breakout Year
To Felix Auger-Aliassime, his debut season on the ATP Tour was more like two seasons.
There was before the US Open, the eight months that saw the teenager reach three ATP Tour finals, crack the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings and go 31-18.
And there was after the US Open, the final 10 weeks of the season in which Auger-Aliassime suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss three tournaments, including the Next Gen ATP Finals, and ended the year on a 2-5 stretch.
“I would say three-quarters of the year was unbelievable, really good. I hit a tougher period after US Open. I feel like I just had a chance to experience a lot of things in that year. Unbelievable performances, new milestones, a lot of great things. Also tougher times where I had to recenter myself, see how I want to play, how I want to compete,” Auger-Aliassime said in Adelaide.
“But overall it was a really good learning experience, really good learning year, with also a lot of positives with the match wins and the improvements in my ranking. I’m obviously happy where I’m at, but I also feel inside of me where, even I could be 100 or 200 or 20, 10. I still feel the same. I still feel like I want to improve. I’m not satisfied of where I’m at.”
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Last season, Auger-Aliassime became the youngest player ranked inside the Top 25 since former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt (18). The Canadian, who turned 19 on 8 August, also became the youngest three-time finalist since Rafael Nadal, ages 17-18 (2004 Auckland, 2004 Sopot, 2005 Costa do Sauipe).
But Auger-Aliassime is ready for more in 2020. He brings the lessons he learned during his debut season and a new mindset for his second year on Tour. Now, Auger-Aliassime said, he’s ready to not only be among the best in the sport; he’s ready to beat the best in the game.
“When you start playing you want to improve this, improve that. You want to get experience,” Auger-Aliassime told ATPTour.com. “But I think now I’m at a point where I was Top 20 in the world. I reached three finals. Now every tournament I play, I play to win. I come, I want to reach the final. I want to give myself a chance to win titles.”
The 6’4” right-hander fell short in all three finals he played last season, in Rio (l. to Djere), Lyon (l. to Paire) and Stuttgart (l. to Berrettini). But he’s off to promising start early in 2020.
On Wednesday night, Auger-Aliassime reached the quarter-finals of the Adelaide International with a 6-3, 7-6(0) win against Aussie wild card James Duckworth.
The Canadian faced a set point at 30/40, 5-6 in the second set. Auger-Aliassime hit a second serve but Duckworth shanked the forehand, and the teenager ran away with the tie-break, thanks in large part to his big serving.
Auger-Aliassime hit 10 aces and won 86 per cent (32/37) of his first-serve points. He didn’t break Duckworth in the second set but still found a way to move on in two sets.
“I stayed calm,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I’m happy with the way I handled things in the second because it could have went another way.
“In the tie-break, I felt confident just because I felt like the percentage of the set was going my way, and I was, like, ‘OK, now it’s the time to show it’.”
Staying calm, even if you lose a second set or a let a match slip, is one of the lessons Auger-Aliassime learned in 2019. No matter how this week goes, he likely will endure a bad stretch during the season, and he’ll have weeks where nothing will go his way. That’s part of a tennis season for every player.
Take, for instance, last season for his 20-year-old countryman and friend Denis Shapovalov. From Roland Garros to the Winston-Salem Open, Shapovalov was 2-6. But by the end of the season, Shapovalov had won his first ATP Tour title and reached his first ATP Masters 1000 final in Paris (l. to Djokovic).
“Enjoy the wins, learn from the losses. Don’t panic because there are a lot of matches,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Obviously you want to win, you want to react. When bad things are happening, you want to go out there and play good. At the end of the day, stay calm, composed because there are so many matches to play.”
He also discovered how vital scheduling can be for a pro player and especially for a younger player. He saw how the world’s best – Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer – look fresh and ready to play whenever they’re at a tournament.
“To reach the top level, you need consistency. You need to take care of your body. You need to be fresh mentally, so you need periods of rest. I think that’s what I’ve learned,” Auger-Aliassime said. “The best players, to see them every tournament they play, you feel like it’s really, really important for them. It’s do or die.”
But the Canadian also has learned to not push himself too hard. As much as he would love to win his first title this week at the Adelaide International, it’s not a must-do for the 19-year-old.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself with results now. It’s not the time. I just want to feel like I’m playing good tennis,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I feel better and better every day. Obviously you’re never sure when the results are going to come. You can win or lose, like the match today. But at the back of my mind, now I know that good things could be coming eventually, so I feel like I’m in a good place in my mind and in my game.”
Besides, it was only 12 months ago that Auger-Aliassime was losing in the second round of quallies at the Australian Open. Next week, he will be seeded in Melbourne for the third consecutive Grand Slam.
“It’s important just to stay humble and just to remember that there are tough moments. But it’s pretty funny to look back at a year ago, a lot of things were different,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But to be honest, in general, how I live my life, I don’t like to look behind because there’s nothing I can do about it anymore, so I look forward.”