“He’s made huge progress and I’m going to have to look closely in the mirror to see how I can improve too.” “He” is Stéfanos Tsitsipás, who brought Félix Auger-Aliassime’s journey in Cincinnati to an end. The Canadian lost 6/2 5/7 6/1 in the quarter-finals of the Masters 1000 in Ohio, his fifth defeat in a row against the Greek player. Yet, not so long ago, Félix Auger-Aliassime was still a major headache for Tsitsipás, so much so that the Greek openly shared his fear of coming up against him on the circuit.
“He’s the most difficult opponent I’ve ever faced,” confided Tsitsipás, despite having crossed paths with Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, after a 7/5 6/2 defeat by FAA at Queen’s in 2019, just a few months after losing 6/4 6/2 at Indian Wells. “I worry (about possibly having to play against him throughout his career). It bothers me because he’s clearly better than me. He beats me every time – first as juniors, now as pros. Maybe I’ll never really beat him.” At this time, the tall blonde player with a single-handed backhand could have been depicting a cyborg when describing his rival.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to get there”
“He has one of the best returns of serve on the planet and his serves are really strong, accurate and difficult to read,” said Tsitsipás. “He’s very fast and can make a difference with both his forehand and backhand shots. He has few weaknesses to exploit when playing against him, he’s a solid player in all areas.” Two years later, FAA still has all these qualities and has even improved on them to move up the rankings. From number 21 at the time, he has since reached number 15. But as he acknowledges, others have developed their skills even more. Players like Berrettini, Rublev, Hurkacz and Ruud have overtaken FAA in the rankings.
There’s only one way to get ahead of them once again. “I just need to keep on working,” he explained to journalists. “This type of match (against Stéfanos Tsitsipás) makes me want to train even more to get better. I want to win these matches in the future and will do whatever it takes to get there.” In late 2020, he admitted he needed to be more consistent in his performance across the whole season. He also needs to be more consistent throughout each match. After taking the second set by winning two match points against Tsitsipás, FAA, who seemed to have the stronger mindset, then fell apart.
All in all, a great week in Cincinnati
“I got off to a very bad start in the third set,” he said. “The last set was terrible. My forehand shots were all wrong, I was rushing... I made the same mistakes I made earlier in the year (in particular during the clay season). It’s really frustrating. I believe I can do much better. I’m disappointed.” But apart from this final round, he had a good week in Ohio. After three defeats in four matches in the three previous tournaments and two first-round eliminations – at the Olympics and at home in Montreal – the Quebec native returned to a winning streak.
In Cincinnati, he beat Fucsovics, Khachanov and Berrettini, who eliminated him at Wimbledon, collecting 345 points, or $1,745 for the #FAAPointsForChange project, which BNP Paribas tops up with $15 per point, or $5,175. In the quarter-finals, he achieved his best ever Grand Slam performance. And he hopes to do better at the US Open, in the absence of Nadal and Federer, among others. If he doesn’t succeed, it doesn’t matter – he will keep trying. Again. And again. Match after match, so that one day, when he reaches the top, his mirror can tell him that he is the best on the circuit.
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Felix Auger Aliassime