Félix Auger-Aliassime: 20 years old and the top 10 within reach

Mar 24, 2021, 12:00:45 PM | by Mathieu Canac

Having reached the quarter-finals in the Mexican Open last week, Félix Auger-Aliassime has set himself an ambitious, but not unrealistic, target for 2021 – to join the top 10 through strong performances in major tournaments. And to win his first title on the main circuit...


At 20, we still feel
A slightly fragile soul
But not so docile
We learn, politely
To control our impatience
And our fine insolence

If Marlène Schiappa can quote Ben, the uncle of Peter Parker alias Spider-Man, we can go even further by quoting French singer Lorie [editor’s note: translated from the lyrics in French]. Since his first steps on the Challenger circuit at the age of 14, Félix Auger-Aliassime has been almost insolently precocious for his age. So much so, that he was quickly tipped as a future tennis champion. At 20, far from being docile for the competition, he is already ranked 18th in the world, despite his rise being slowed a tad by the “freezing” of the rankings. The only drawback is that his shoulders haven’t yet been strong enough to pick up a trophy on the main circuit. After competing in three finals in 2019 – Rio de Janeiro, Lyon and Stuttgart – three more in 2020 – Rotterdam, Marseille and Cologne 1 – and one in January at the Murray River Open, he is still waiting patiently. “Seven finals lost already? It’s starting to get a bit much,” I can hear you say. Admittedly, taken on its own, this number may appear daunting. But less so on closer examination. Like a Doctor Octopus with his mechanical tentacles removed. 

On four occasions, Auger-Aliassime lost to players ranked higher than him. In Rio, Rotterdam, Marseille and Cologne, he was beaten by Laslo Djere, Gaël Monfils, Stéfanos Tsitsipás, and Alexander Zverev. They were then ranked 90th, 9th, 6th and 7th respectively, while the Canadian was placed 104th, 21st, 18th and 22nd at the time of these clashes. On the clay court in Lyon, worn down by Benoît Paire and his array of drop shots, he was unable to make much headway. Having taken a physical hit, he played a good portion of the game on a leg and a half. This injury then forced him to withdraw from the French Open. In Stuttgart, on grass, he fell before the immense serve of Matteo Berrettini in peak condition. The Italian competed in the Masters a few months later, so there was no shame in it. The most recent setback, in Melbourne, however, was undoubtedly more difficult to digest. This was against Daniel Evans, ranked 33rd in the world, and yet to win a title at the time.

“There’s no reason to worry about him” – Stéfanos Tsitsipás

In the Open era, only three men have performed “worse” than “FAA”: Julien Benneteau, Pat Dupre and Cédric Pioline. Another statistic that could be interpreted as a sign of “a slightly fragile soul” at the crucial moment: Félix Auger-Aliassime has never quite managed to win a final. But, accustomed to looking on the bright side, the young challenger prefers to use these potential sources of concern to fill his glass and see it as more than half full. “People talk about it more and more [editor's note: his defeats in finals], but at the end of the day it’s a good thing as it means I’m playing in finals,” he explained to Fox Sports Mexico during the Acapulco tournament last week. “Sometimes, people try to make these results negative, but I think they are positive. I have already [editor's note: at just 20 years old] had the chance to play so many finals. Of course, I'm the first to want to win them, but that’s how it is. That’s my story. You don't always get what you want.”

Having defeated the Canadian in the quarter-finals of the Mexican ATP 500, Stéfanos Tsitsipás isn’t overly concerned about his younger rival. “I’d be surprised if he doesn’t overcome his difficulties,” said the Greek player at a press conference after their duel. “He just needs a little more time. It takes patience. Sometimes you have to fail several times before you get what you want. I think he’s someone with a very strong will, like me, and that type of personality always ends up achieving their goal. He’s a guy with a lot of ability, a great technique… There's really no need to worry about him.” Although defeated – 7/5 4/6 6/3 in 2 hours 6 minutes – by the current 5th ranked player in the world, Félix Auger-Aliassime rose to the challenge. “We played a very high-intensity match, both offering incredible tennis,” said Tsitsipás. Reason enough to approach the first Masters 1000 of the season with confidence.

Aiming for the Top 10

This Wednesday marks the start of the Miami Open. Deprived of 50% of its direct entrants  – including Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – the Florida event is a fantastic opportunity for the strongest players who are usually seen as outsiders. Those with an impressive hand to play include Félix Auger-Aliassime. Seeded 11th, he will face Pedro Sousa or Pierre-Hugues Herbert, the recent Marseille finalist, to be in the running. If he wins, he could then face John Isner, who beat him in the 2019 semi-final – the Canadian’s best performance to date in this category of event. A similar path this year could bring him closer to a place in the top 10, one of its main medium-term goals. “Obviously, I want to improve my ranking,” he explained, again to Fox Sports Mexico. “But that will come from my results in major tournaments, and the consistency that requires.”

A personal happiness would make other people happy too. The more success he achieves, the more support is received by the children of Togo’s La Kara region. Since early 2020, as part of the #FAAPointForChange, operation, with each point won on court Félix Auger-Aliassime has donated $5 to help fund the EduChange programme set up by the NGO Care. BNP Paribas also supports the project, adding an extra $15 per point. During the first quarter of 2021, the money raised has been used to carry out renovation work on schools, to establish educational support systems within them and to buy sports equipment. After the profound impression left on him by a trip to his father’s homeland at 13 years old, the Canadian felt the desire and the need to help others. Barely out of his teens, he has already achieved this goal. Whether on or off the courts, at 20, nothing seems impossible for Félix Auger-Aliassime.