“By announcing good news, we make ourselves amiable. By announcing bad news, we make ourselves important,” according to Henry de Montherlant. Let's begin this article with an attempt to make it more “important”: the season is over for Félix Auger-Aliassime, and earlier than expected. Due to an ongoing injury, the Canadian had to withdraw from the final stage of the Davis Cup, held from 25 November to 5 December. “Since my early days in tennis, it has always been a priority and privilege to step on the court to defend the colours of my country,” he explained in a message posted on social media. “However, I have been struggling to heal some pain in my knee for a few months now.”
“I was advised by my medical staff that these next couple of weeks will be crucial for me to rest and get my body in the best shape possible before the start of 2022.” In particular to be able to continue his ascent through the ranks, since it’s now time to make this article more “amiable” and make way for some good news. On 11 November, after his win in the ATP 250 quarter-finals in Stockholm, where his journey finally came to an end in the next round against his buddy Denis Shapovalov – who has also pulled out of the Davis Cup – he reached two milestones. His 100th victory on the main circuit enabled him to achieve one of the goals announced at the start of the year: to enter the Top 10 for the first time in his career, a reward for all his hard work.
“I feel more mature, as a player and as a person”
“I feel more mature as a player and as a person,” he told a press conference at the Swedish tournament. “I know more about what I want to do on court. I know how I want to behave, how I want to play, how I want to approach the game. My explanations may not be very precise, but it's really what I feel inside me. When everything falls into place, when my ideas are increasingly clear about what I want to do, I play very good tennis.” And to achieve this state of mind, he not only needed to work hard technically at his tennis on the training court, but also in his head.
This is partly why he officially announced in early April the start of his collaboration with Toni Nadal, selected as co-coach alongside Frédéric Fontang. “He (Toni Nadal) wants to develop this mentality of champion, of conqueror, which is necessary for me to reach the highest level,” he explained at the end of May in an Instagram Live with Nicolas Mahut for We Are Tennis. The seeds sown by “Tio Toni” eventually germinated and grew into the 21-year-old sapling. “I think I have more confidence in myself than a year ago about being able to compete with the best in the world, to take my chances against anyone,” confided FAA, again at Stockholm.
“Having a winning mentality is where I’ve made the most progress”
“Having that self-confidence, really believing deep down that you can do it, I think that's where I've made the most progress this season – the winning mentality. Yes, I’ve proven it through my results to some extent.” After a mixed season on clay, the Montreal native found his feet again on grass. After a prestigious victory in Halle against Roger Federer, one of his childhood idols, he went on to play his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Wimbledon, notching up a win over Alexander Zverev along the way, who he had previously been unable to defeat in four encounters.
With no hesitation in taking a good look in the mirror to question himself, despite all his achievements, he quickly moved on to the next level. Two months after his London adventure, he progressed to the US Open semi-finals. The only snag was, he still had no ATP title. He has lost two more finals this season – the Murray River Open and Stuttgart – to bring his total to eight, all contested before the age of 21, but without ever winning a set. Not that he plans to give up yet. “Yes, in some finals I didn’t play my best tennis,” he acknowledged after the last one, which he lost 7/6 6/3 to Marin Čilić on grass in Germany. “But this time, I felt I was close.”
The quest for a first title
Used to seeing the glass half-full, the current world number 10 is no doubt aware that this mentality is essential to allow him to really make his mark. To have played so many finals at such a young age is already a rare achievement. Federer, for example, had only one more by 21 (three won, six lost). And by hunting for his first pearl, FAA may well end up collecting a whole string. Before securing one of the greatest achievements in French tennis, Cédric Pioline lost his first nine finals. But whatever his results, the Canadian is providing considerable help to the #FAAPointsForChange project.
Since its launch in January 2020, he has won 9,873 points on court, the equivalent of $49,365, which BNP Paribas tops up with $15 per point – or $148,095 – for the education and protection of children in the Kara region of Togo. “I would love to be able to go there, but it’s difficult with the Covid crisis,” he told a press conference in Bercy at the start of November. “My dad will definitely be going very soon. We will have to make a decision as a family to see if I can go. If I can’t, a family member will make the trip to see the project’s progress.” Because as well as being an amiable person, in the true sense of the word, the young man does important work – for others.
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Felix Auger Aliassime