Whether under the spotlights or for a desert crossing, Félix Auger-Aliassime always comes prepared. With a pair of sunglasses to avoid being dazzled by brilliant results, a cap and a bottle of water to keep a cool head until the next oasis during a losing streak. After a quarter-final at the Australian Open where he came close to winning by producing tennis of exceptional quality for much of the match – “He was playing at a crazy level, it was unreal,” said Daniil Medvedev – the Canadian had harnessed that confidence. He went on to win in Rotterdam to lift his first singles trophy on the main circuit, going on to a final in Marseille.
Then, on leaving European indoor tournaments to move outside, the gears seized up. Two early losses on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami, against Botic van de Zandschulp and Miomir Kecmanović respectively, a second round elimination against Alex Molčan on clay in Marrakesh, followed by another against Lorenzo Musetti in his first match in Monte Carlo. “It's really important that the parents and the coach always pass the message to the player that it’s a process, you know? You are going to lose, you are going to win,” explained Frédéric Fontang, FAA’s coach, in a podcast broadcast by the ATP in early April. “So don't feel too high or too low after the matches. You have to have humility.”
“Don’t feel too high or too low after matches” – Frédéric Fontang, Félix Auger-Aliassime’s coach
“With Felix, we had the chance to work with Toni Nadal in the last one year,” continued the Frenchman. “You can feel that humility is everywhere in the family. That’s one of the reasons why Rafael Nadal is able to continue to live his passion and play at this level after winning so many big titles. Humility is where you're going on the court with the same passion and you’re trying to do your best every day and stay normal. That’s really important.” To avoid getting really down and giving in to bouts of negativity after a series of disappointing results, Félix Auger-Aliassime has got into the habit of always seeing the glass half full.
“Yes, I can be proud of the way I played to save the three match points,” he said, for example, following his 7/6 6/7 6/3 defeat at Indian Wells, despite three opportunities for van de Zandschulp to cement his victory in straight sets. “OK, I lost today (14 March), but at least I fought hard trying to play better. Winning the second set was positive, even though I wasn’t playing very well. The quality of tennis was not there, but at least I held on.” Of course, he could have done without his current losing streak, but there is nothing abnormal about that.
“No, I’m not yet ready to take over from Nadal or Djokovic” – Félix Auger-Aliassime
Still very young, the Montreal native has often repeated that he has had to keep working to achieve consistency, which he has come close to since last season, in his results at the highest level, week after week. That same consistency that enabled Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to win even on difficult days, as they laid the foundations of their monumental careers. Those three extra-terrestrials, like something out of a tennis-fiction novel, have normalised the paranormal. With a few very rare exceptions, they have made winning whole series of finals and semi-finals appear natural. An era that could end in the next few years.
Like Auger-Aliassime, the new generation, which is older than the previous one and embodied by Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev and Stéfanos Tsitsipás, has also regularly experienced a few slumps. “I’m only 21. No, I’m not yet ready to take over from Nadal or Djokovic,” replied the Quebecer at a press conference in Monte Carlo. “I hope, in the future, to be able to become a player with an important place on the circuit. New players are coming. Maybe we won’t have three players dominating everyone else. We’ll have more players at the top.” While knowing that at his best, he has what it takes to produce one of the most effective games on the planet.
“It’s difficult to maintain the level I showed at the start, few players are capable of it” – Félix Auger-Aliassime
“It's difficult to maintain the level I showed at the start, few players are capable of it,” he conceded to journalists in Monte Carlo. I will try to be one of those players in the future, but I still need to improve a lot of things.” And, although he started the season badly on clay, the young man has a really chance now to anchor his position among the 10 best players on the planet. Ranked ninth in the world this week, he has very few ATP points to defend until the start of the grass season. As of 2021, he had won just four matches in six tournaments on ochre. Beaten four times early on, he had reached the quarter-finals in Barcelona and the third round in Rome.
Just by winning a few more matches, especially at major events like the Masters 1000 and the French Open, Félix Auger-Aliassime would consolidate his current status. Strong performances should see him take some places and improve his career best ranking, while accumulating cash for the #FAAPointsForChange project. Then will come the second half of the season, during which he will have some important results to defend. Starting with Wimbledon, the site of his first Grand Slam quarter-final, where the entrance leading to Centre Court is adorned by a quote he strives to apply, taken from the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.”
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Felix Auger Aliassime
Botic van de Zandschulp