Felix Auger-Aliassime has long idolised Roger Federer. And on Wednesday afternoon, the Canadian defeated the Swiss legend 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in their first ATP Head2Head clash at the NOVENTI OPEN.
“It was pretty cool. When we got to the court, when the match started it was a pretty cool moment. But then as the match went on, I was just really zoned in and locked into the moment and the match,” Auger-Aliassime said. “At the end of the third set, even though I was up by two breaks and I felt like things were going [my way] — he was missing a little more — I still had to maintain my focus.
“Against players like him and other top players, you never know how quickly things can turn around, so I had to really maintain my focus.”
This wasn’t the first time they have spent time on the same court together. When Felix was younger, Federer invited him to train together in Dubai. But that did not play a role in the #NextGenATP star’s victory.
“When we just started to play points together in practice, we were at 3-3 and I got hurt, I twisted my ankle,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I played six games with Roger a couple years ago in practice, so it wasn’t much, but for sure a match is completely different.
“I think I just understood how good he was and how much he can make players struggle against him. [It was good] to just face him face-to-face, [see] how he serves so precisely and how he mixes up the spins. It was good. It was a good experience to see that and I think with the win I’ve also learned a lot facing Roger.”
Auger-Aliassime has spoken about watching Federer when he was younger. Earlier in the week, he recalled recording the 2008 Wimbledon final between the Swiss and Rafael Nadal, which he watched repeatedly. So what was different about actually playing the 39-year-old in a match?
“You feel the pressure that he puts on you with his movement, with his shots,” Auger-Aliassime said. “When he serves and comes in behind his serve to volley, whenever he comes into the net, you feel that pressure way more than when you’re on the outside. [When you watch on television] you just think, ‘Oh, the player could have played there, or he could have played there.’ It seems so easy.
“But when you’re facing him, things change quickly. Things are much more difficult than they look from the outside, but I was able to really deal with that well today and I think that’s one of the reasons why I was able to get the win.”
It was a confidence-boosting victory for the 20-year-old, who is into the quarter-finals in Halle. Auger-Aliassime, who made the final last week in Stuttgart, will next play American qualifier Marcos Giron.
“I had a good time [on grass] two years ago. Again, the past few days have been good,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I have to keep going that way, but for sure I feel confident in my chances of winning more matches in the weeks to come.”