Teenager Auger-Aliassime falls in Monte Carlo

Save

It’s a delicate balance, the reining in of a tennis thoroughbred that everyone – including himself – wants to gallop to the top like, yesterday.

Generally, the team around Canadian teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime has done a masterful job of taking these fledgling moments of his promising career one step at a time.

But perhaps a wild card at this week’s Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo might have been a step too far, too quickly.

That, of course, is in retrospect, after the Canadian went down 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-1 to experienced lefty Mischa Zverev in his first-round match on Sunday.

If he pulls it off, and faces No. 7 seed Lucas Pouille in the second round, maybe you can say, “Okay, he was ready.” But coming in, through two Challenger-level clay-court events, the teenager had won just one match, to a player very close to his age. And even that one wasn’t easy.

So he wasn’t exactly on a roll of clay-court confidence as he entered the picturesque environs of the Monte Carlo Country Club.

No rhythm against experienced lefty

You could see Auger-Aliassime learning on the job with every passing moment against Zverev. But in the end, much of the outcome was in the hands of his 30-year-old opponent.

Zverev flinched once. But he didn’t flinch twice.

“Experience is sometimes good, sometimes bad. In the second set I was getting a little too defensive,” Zverev said during an on-court interview after the win. “He was playing really, really well. He has a great future – he’s 12-13 years younger than me, so he has many more years to go.”

Auger-Aliassime
Zverev said after the match that he got too defensive in the second set, waiting for his much-younger opponent to give it to him. The TennisTV stats bear that out.

Overall, calm and cool

The biggest step up Auger-Aliassime has taken in the last year is on the emotional side. His competitive temperament is far more even-keeled now. And when Zverev took his foot off the gas in the second set, he kept his cool and got on a roll.

The young Canadian was having all kinds of trouble holding serve. Three games into the second set, the clock was pushing 25 minutes – and Zverev only needed about two minutes to hold serve in the middle game.

Auger-Aliassime
A roar from Auger-Aliassime after he takes the second-set tiebreak. The third set went quickly, though.

Zverev was up 6-2, 4-2 and had three break points in that seventh game.  Somehow, after more than 14 minutes, Auger-Aliassime managed to hold. And break. And then hold again.

After a flurry of points against serve in the eventual tiebreak, two unforced errors by Zverev gave the kid the set.

Auger-AliassimeThose errors came when the German was trying to pull the trigger too early. And, in retrospect, they set the tone for the decider.

Zverev came back from a bathroom break with his mindset back to what had worked so well in the first set. He stepped into the court a little more again. And Auger-Aliassime began to display his first signs of frustration.

That second set had taken nearly an hour and a half. And the tension surrounding those monumental holds of serve may finally have shown.

Auger-Aliassime was broken at love in the final game, after one final too-hasty backhand went right into the net. And so Zverev went through.  He was helped by 62 unforced errors by his younger opponent – far too many even if, having made 35 of them in the second set, Auger-Aliassime still won the set.

Post-match runner-up interview

The teenager then enjoyed another new experience – an on-court interview after a defeat.

A year ago, he might well have cut a disconsolate figure. But he handled this with impressive grace, helped by the fact that he shares a language with the majority of the Monte Carlo crowd – the majority of which was firmly behind him during the match.

“Thank you to everyone, thank you for living this moment with me – a really nice first,” he said. “I would have hoped to keep it going in the third, but I’ll get back to training, and I’ll come back stronger next year.”  

More matches needed

The downside of the Masters 1000 upgrade for Auger-Aliassime, of course, is that now he must wait more than a week before he can play another match.

Given he only began his season in February, after rehabbing a knee injury suffered during off-season training in Dubai with Roger Federer, he’s a little behind in that area.

Auger-Aliassime

It’s a different scenario than his appearances at Indian Wells and Miami last month. 

There, he maximized. Auger-Aliassime defeated two solid players in qualifying and earned his way into his first ATP Tour main draw – at a Masters 1000, no less. He posted his first top-100 win against countryman Vasek Pospisil, and he showed well against the top Canadian, an inspired Milos Raonic.

Lessons learned

The kid learned his lesson there, cutting it a little close in arriving for the Challenger the week before and losing in the first round.

Auger-AliassimeBut the upside was that Auger-Aliassime was able to practice in the unusual conditions for a week. And when he got to the big event, he was ready.

Auger-Aliassime learned another lesson the following week in Miami, where he went out in brutally hot, humid conditions against American Mackenzie McDonald in the qualifying.

No ballcap, no ice towel on changeovers and in the end, Auger-Aliassime was overcome by the conditions (even though he very nearly won the match).

Sunday in Monte Carlo, another lesson learned as he adjusted to his crafty opponent’s game, and upped his patience level. Still, he had to save 6-of-7 break points in that second set. Had Zverev, who’s had a rough six months, been more confident in closing out matches these days, it might well have gone 6-2, 6-2.

But Auger-Aliassime made Zverev earn it. He gave himself a chance.

More dirt for Auger-Aliassime

Next up for the young Canadian is a return to the Challenger circuit, where he played events in Alicante, Spain and Barletta, Italy (with just one victory) before coming to Monte Carlo.

He is entered in a Challenger in Francavilla, Italy, where he may well be seeded. The week after that, he could play another ATP Tour event.

Auger-Aliassime is a few spots out of making the qualifying in Estoril, Portugal on his own ranking.

And as he learned at Indian Wells, the sweetest opportunities are the ones not given, but earned.

(All screenshots from TennisTV)

After Miami heat, Auger-Aliassime already on the dirt

Save

Félix Auger-Aliassime’s Miami Open debut was definitely a letdown after his great run to make the main draw at Indian Wells.

But the conditions were night and day.

And the 17-year-old Canadian teenager succumbed.

Auger-Aliassime was first up on the Monday morning of qualifying. He faced 22-year-old Mackenzie McDonald, who went to UCLA and is just starting his pro career in earnest.

It was really hot, and very humid, during the two days of qualifying. And Auger-Aliassime, after the cool, dry temps in the desert, really struggled.

Still, Auger-Aliassime had a match point in that third-set tiebreak. But in the end, McDonald pulled it off.

A little heatstroke

As you can see at the end of the video, Auger-Aliassime was in fairly bad shape at the end of the match. But it was even worse afterwards.

Some 45 minutes later, your Tennis.Life correspondent opened the door to a hallway leading to the photographers’ and press conference rooms, on the ground floor of the Miami Open stadium.

And there was poor Auger-Aliassime, lying on the carpet in the narrow hallway, just inside the door, still trying to recover from a marathon match in very tough conditions. He was there a long time, and joked later that he definitely wasn’t at his best.

He didn’t wear a cap, or use the ice towel during the match. You’d have to think he won’t make that same mistake again, although you’d think his coach would have insisted. (Perhaps he did, and the kid went his own way).

So much for Miami. 

Two weeks later, on the tierra

After returning home to rest and reload, the 17-year-old finds himself in Valencia, Spain at the Juan Carlos Ferrero Challenger, already making the transition to the red clay. He plans to play several Challengers in Europe this spring.

There, he met 18-year-old Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the first round.

The temperatures in Valencia this week are far more moderate: around 70F, low humidity.

A year older than Auger-Aliassime, at No. 455 in the ATP Tour rankings, Davidovich Fokina is about at his career best. But he’s ranked about 170 spots below Auger-Aliassime.

The two had met before – twice, in fact, during a one-month period.

Davidovich Fokina defeated the Quebecer 6-4 in the third set in the semifinals of the big junior tournament outside Montreal, the week before the US Open juniors in 2016.

Auger-Aliassime got his revenge in Flushing Meadow, winning 6-4, 7-6 in a pretty dramatic test and eventually winning the title to cap off his junior career.

It was very hot that day, as well. But Auger-Aliassime was wearing a cap.

The Spanish kid wasn’t without his drama …

The outcome in Valencia was somewhat similar. 

Auger-Aliassime won, but it was a tight one – 7-5, 7-5 in more than two hours. It ended on an ill-advised drop shot from Davidovich Fokina, followed by an angry racket smash.

 

Auger-Aliassime will play Guido Andreozzi of Italy in the second round. Andreozzi, a 26-year-old from Argentina ranked No. 167, upset the No. 3 seed Stefano Travaglia of Italy in the first round.

Auger-Aliassime’s desert debut a success

Save

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Félix Auger-Aliassime, the 17-year-old from Quebec who won his first ATP Tour main-draw match this week at Indian Wells, didn’t start his trip with very much promise.

He admitted he cut it a little too close in terms of his arrival to prepare for the ATP Tour Challenger the week before the main event.

And, as everyone who comes to the desert for the first time finds out, the combination of slow, gritty courts and desert air takes quite a bit of adaptation.

As a result, Auger-Aliassime was already into the second set of his first-round match against an alternate, Ricardo Ojeda Lara of Spain, at the Oracle Challenger before he even found his bearings.

The 6-0, 6-4 loss was a disappointment. But as it turned out, Auger-Aliassime would them have a full week to acclimatize.

Here he is talking about various topics – including what it’s like to train with Roger Federer and how his serve and forehand feel when you’re on the other side of the net, during his practice week.

(It’s in French – we’ve subtitled his answers).

Heavy training week pays off

He took full advantage. It seemed as though a regular diet of two-a-day practices was on the regular menu. And Auger-Aliassime hit with – among others – Mirza Basic, Sebastian Korda, Yuki Bhambri, Reilly Opelka (and a few others dispatched to the haze of Tennis.Life’s short-term memory).

The desert air was a different beast. And Auger-Aliassime, at times, had his fingers taped like Rafael Nadal as the blisters appeared because of the dry climate.

But all the practice paid off.

The teenager defeated quality players in Bjorn Fratangelo and Nobert Gombos (in an impressive comeback win that had the large group of Canadians in the crowd going crazy) to make the main draw.

It wasn’t Auger-Aliassime’s first ATP Tour main draw; he received a pair of wild cards in Europe last month. But it was the first time he had earned his way into the qualifying on his own ranking. And it was the biggest tournament he has ever played in.

All-Canadian section

The draw wasn’t kind. Slots No. 89 – 92 in the men’s singles draw featured three Canadians. Auger-Aliassime played Vasek Pospisil. And the winner was to play Milos Raonic.

Auger-Aliassime’s physicality and Pospisil’s below-average affection for the slow Indian Wells courts combined to help the 17-year-old to his first career ATP Tour-level win.

He was rapidly brought back to reality in the second round in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Raonic, the former top-five player whose ranking has fallen due to extended injury absences. But everything seem to unfold as it should.

“Against Milos, I think it proved that he’s back to his best level. He was very solid,” Auger-Aliassime said during a conference call with the media back home Thursday morning. “Beyond that, I look at it a few days later, and I tell myself that maybe I’m not so far from that level.”  

And then, as many eliminated players do, Auger-Aliassime stuck around.

He was automatically withdrawn from this week’s Challenger event back home in Quebec (although it’s hard to imagine he’d have played it anyway, given the week he had). 

And so he stayed on to practice.

Shapo, Air Felix and the Fed

By his last full day on site Tuesday, he had an hour session with his good pal and fellow Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

And then, he headed through the player’s field and onto Practice Court 2, where he had a date with … Roger Federer.

Federer had texted his new training partner, a player he had invited to Dubai last December for two weeks to hit with him during his offseason training block, to warm him up for his match that night.

Who says “no” to the Fed?

Federer was late – about 20 minutes late. The crowd had already been there for an hour and a half, or more, waiting for him.

The 20-minute cool-off in the shade after the earlier hit wasn’t great, but probably not an issue for Auger-Aliassime, who waited patiently. (And, you parents will love this – didn’t even get on his cellphone once while he waited).

A half-hour with Federer, with the crowd loving every minute, was a nice cap on the best week of Auger-Aliassime’s career, in his first of what surely will be many trips to Indian Wells.

The Indian Wells – Miami double

Next up will be a similar tournament in Miami, – but with very different conditions – and another opportunity to try to qualify for a Masters 1000-level event early next week.

“I’m attacking Miami with more confidence than I had at Indian Wells. After each tournament, it’s a bit of a new start,” he said. “I have to put the lid on it. Not quite start back at zero, because I have the confidence I accumulated over the last few days. There will be good players I have to beat to qualify, but I’m confident I can do what I did at Indian Wells.”

Here’s a photo gallery of some of Auger-Aliassime’s moments.

Canadians bloom in California desert

Save

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The California desert has for years been a place where Canadian tennis players bloom in winter.

The sheer number of snow birds ensure big-time support at the BNP Paribas Open no matter the Canadian, no matter the opponent. 

But when 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime faced 27-year-old Vasek Pospisil before a packed Stadium Court 2 Friday night, the crowd was as tense as the two players. It was as though rooting for one meant rooting against the other. 

And of course you know how Canadian are so polite and all.

It was a conflicted group although in the end, they got behind the fresh face, the up-and-coming teenager, who defeated Pospisil 6-2, 7-6 (4) to reach the second round.

Here’s what it looked like.

More “firsts” for Felix

Auger-Aliassime is the first player born in the 2000s (Aug. 8, 2000 to be exact) to win a main-draw match on the ATP Tour. He is the youngest to win one since his good friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov did it against Nick Kyrgios in the Rogers Cup in Toronto in 2016.

And he’s the youngest to do it at the BNP Paribas Open in nearly 30 years, since Michael Chang (17 years, one month) did it in 1989.

“This was a bit more unexpected, I think, than the other “firsts” that I’ve known over the last two or three years, I was coming from the qualifying, I didn’t have a lot of expectations for my results. I had some expectations about my attitude, about the way I wanted to play. And I think that was really something that helped tonight. I was able to sort of put the emotions aside, even if  wasn’t easy, and concentrate on my game, and it paid off in end,” Auger-Aliassime said. 

The courts here – generally acknowledged by the players as being among the slowest, if not the slowest, on Tour – suit Auger-Aliassime far more than they do Pospisil, who can do significant damage on faster courts.

“It was always going to be tough, especially here. He’s very physical, and the courts are the slowest of the year for sure. He’s extremely fit. I knew I had to play well to win, and I didn’t do that. But again, credit to him. It was tricky, windy, and he handled it better than me,” Pospisil said.  “I struggled through the qualifying mentally a little bit, physically. I actually felt better (Friday), both physically and mentally, more fresh. But it was just tough, Felix played well, and conditions were tough.”

Pospisil has just jumped into the main draw at the next Masters 1000 in Miami, after a few withdrawals. But first, he’ll head to scenic Drummondville, Que., about an hour from Montreal, to play a $75,000 Challenger there next week.

Canadian colors in the desert

bloom

Auger-Aliassime said it felt like Davis Cup in California when he pulled off a comeback victory in the qualifying against Slovakia’s Norbert Gombos Wednesday to reach the main draw.

But the support was just as fervent when he played an American, Bjorn Fratangelo, in the first qualifying round the previous day.

Polansky gets rock-star treatment

Peter Polansky, who navigates around the fringes of relative obscurity most of the year, was buoyed by a jubilant crowd when he defeated Marius Copil of Romania in a first-round match Thursday.

It was a match Polansky called the “craziest” of his career, a victory that went 14-12 in a third-set tiebreaker and was a gruelling test of both body and nerve.

Polansky has had too many heartbreaking losses to count in similar matches, which seemed to be going his way until the very, very end. This one, he pulled off to reach the second round. He will play No. 20 seed Adrian Mannarino of France Saturday.

Here’s how it looked against Copil.

Polansky had near-uninimous support against Copil. On Friday, with Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil, the crowd was torn.

“The energy was different compared to my final round of qualifying. I heard encouragement for Vasek, and I heard it for me. But it stayed very respectful. I think the people were just happy to see two Canadians perform in such a beautiful stadium, and I think they were happy for me when I won in the end,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I expect them to be there for the next match as well.”

Another battle of Canada next up

The “next” one for Auger-Aliassime is against a player he considers one of his idols, longtime top Canadian male Milos Raonic.

Raonic is not in the best quadrant of his career, after multiple injuries cut short his 2017 season. Those injuries also are having their effect on 2018 in terms of the lack of practice and match play.

Still, even if his movement isn’t back to where it was, Raonic’s serve remains a formidable weapon.

As Auger-Aliassime coach Frédéric Fontang put it, it will come down to the return.

Auger-Aliassime also has the advantage of already having had four matches on the Indian Wells courts – not to mention nearly a full week of intense practice.

Raonic, who squeezed in as the No. 32 seed, had a first-round bye. This will be his first match since he lost in the second round of the Delray Beach event a few weeks ago.

“I think Felix can give him trouble here, honestly. He has a great game for these conditions. He’s very physical. He moves well … It’s very tough to create anything and hit winners, and he can really hang physically,” Pospisil said. “So I think, serving well, he can definitely give Milos some trouble Especially if he does like he did against me – swinging free, is confident and has nothing to lose. Then maybe he has a chance to win.”

Little Félix was in awe

Three summers ago, Auger-Aliassime warmed up Raonic ahead of his match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. He had turned 15 just a few days before. Raonic was about to face big-serving Ivo Karlovic in his first match of the tournament.

The kid was the jinx; Raonic, who had reached the final the previous time the event had been held in Montreal in 2013, lost in two tiebreaks.

Here’s some vintage video of that warmup session.

Auger-Aliassime is a lot taller now – his hair is a lot taller, too. His serve is a lot harder. He has since signed a deal with Nike, so his kits are fancier.

And he’s done enough on the tennis court that he won’t be quite as in awe of Raonic, the former No. 3 and Wimbledon finalist.

Raonic reached the Indian Wells final the last time he played it, in 2016.

“Everything’s possible in sport. You never know. We saw with Denis (Shapovalov) last year at the Rogers Cup,” Auger-Aliassime said.

“It’s unbelievable for me to be able to play Milos in the second round. Just two or three years ago I was warming him up, he was sort of my idol. It was like, ‘Wow, Milos is right there’. Now, to play him in the second round of a Masters 1000 is incredible.

“I’ll let the emotions in a little bit (from Friday’s victory), and then I’ll start preparing for Sunday.”

Looking ahead

Auger-Aliassime also is entered in next week’s Challenger, although if he does manage to defeat Raonic, his entry would automatically be rescinded.

Even if he doesn’t, the teenager may pass on it after all the tennis and emotions of the past week. Coach Fontang said it’s something they would discuss, when the time comes.

As with Pospisil in the main draw, Auger-Aliassime just squeezed into the Miami qualifying in recent days, after a few withdrawals. 

His ranking for that entry list was No. 166. 

Right now, it’s actually lower than that, by nearly 10 spots, despite his efforts in the desert. Auger-Aliassime has 56 points coming off his rankings resumé the next two weeks because a year ago, he won a Futures event in Canada and then reached the semifinals of that Drummondville Challenger.

The difference, of course, is that at the ATP level, he can earn big chunks of points quickly, if he can win matches. It would take a win over Raonic to get him back to where he is this week.

Auger-Aliassime’s ATP debut comes close

Save

In the first set of the first match of the next step in his professional career, 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime looked like he was feeling the nerves.

But it passed. And while the Canadian teenager fell just short of pulling off an upset against world No. 38 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, he could leave the court with his head held high.

Krajinovic, eight years older at 25, pulled off a 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 victory that puts him into the second round of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Auger-Aliassime gained some valuable experience. And he also showed how much his on-court maturity has skyrocketed over the last 12 months. 

As disappointed as he was, he managed a smile for his opponent at the net, something he had trouble doing earlier in his career. And he applauded the fans as he walked off the court.

And above all, he kept his cool when he found himself in a fix.

Aliassime

The Montrealer also showed how much stronger he has become, with first serves regularly landing in the 210 km/hour (130 mph) range.

It was almost, but not quite, enough.

Early nerves led to slow start

“The nerves got to me a little bit in the first set. I started not bad the first two games, but still I felt tight. I felt my ball wasn’t going as it usually does, playing pretty short, not serving so well. The plan was to just hang in there mentally. It was in my control to stay tough mentally, and that’s what I did,” Auger-Aliassime told the media in Rotterdam, as reported on the ATP Tour website.

“That’s why I was so close to winning the match, but he did great. I think he did great on the important points, saving break point. I think he was a little bit tougher than me on those points,” he added.

The crucial seventh game

Auger-Aliassime’s shot came in the seventh game of the third set, with the score tied at 3-3 and Krajinovic always serving first and putting the pressure on.

Auger-Aliassime had love-40 on the Serb’s serve.

He did very little wrong; Krajinovic did everything right, including getting in some strong first serves that, even if they didn’t approach the velocity of his younger opponent’s delivery, were highly effective all the same.

After that, Auger-Aliassime held serve once to stay in the match. But he couldn’t do it a second time and force a decisive tiebreaker; he was broken at 5-6. And that was it.

Auger-Aliassime wasn’t helped by the fact that, in that last game, he broke a string on the 30-all point, losing the point and setting up Krajinovic’s first match point. He saved that one, but the momentum was all with the Serb from there; it felt as though Auger-Aliassime was swimming upstream the rest of the way.

Forehand giveth, and taketh

There were 198 total points in the match. And nearly a third of them (61) were wholly dependant on Auger-Aliassime’s heavy forehand.

5-6, 30-all, third set – and Félix Auger-Aliasime breaks a string. (TennisTV)

He earned 24 winners with it; he also made 37 unforced errors with it.

Auger-Aliassime went 12-for-20 at the net. And had he made even a couple of the tougher volleys he missed, he might be playing again on Thursday.

The kid won’t have to wait long for his second attempt at the ATP Tour level. He has received another wild card next week, into the 250-level event in Marseille, France.

“I think we’ll start from here. I’m just starting my season, second tournament, and it’s exciting. A lot of new things around. I think I’m dealing with them pretty well, but we’ll start from here. It’s really encouraging the level that I played at the end of the match,” he said.

(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Canada Day in Budapest (and Antalya)

Save

The tennis nation of Canada had an excellent day on Sunday.

And the more well-known names – Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov, Denis Bouchard – weren’t even involved.

On the down side, the understaffed Fed Cup team was no match for Romania in Cluj-Napoca over the weekend. Carol Zhao, Bianca Andreescu and Katherine Sebov – all but Andreescu making their singles debuts at the World Group level – won just one set in three matches. 

The Canadians did salvage a point in the dead doubles rubber on Sunday.

But everywhere else on Planet Tennis Canada, there was hardware.

First up on Sunday was Rebecca Marino, who is returning to pro tennis after a five-year absence.

The 27-year-old followed up her victory at a $15,000 ITF Pro Circuit event in Turkey last week with another title on Sunday, in a similar event.

Marino won three qualifying matches in the first title run. So she has now gone 13-0 in her return (including one walkover) and hasn’t lost a set.

Pospisil wins second straight

Later Sunday, Marino’s fellow British Columbia native Vasek Pospisil won his second straight title on the Challenger circuit.

Budapest
Flashback: Vasek Pospisil as a junior 10 years ago, at the 2008 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Pospisil won the Open de Rennes two weeks ago without dropping a set.

In between came the four-set loss to Borna Coric of Croatia in Davis Cup, and some physical woes.

But Pospisil bounced back in Budapest, managing to put together five victories even if he wasn’t feeling 100 per cent.

He won this title after getting through back-to-back-to-back three-set matches in three days in the final rounds.

In the final, he defeated promising teenager Nicola Kuhn 76 (3), 3-6, 6-3.

Kuhn returned to court a little while later, and helped Canada to a third trophy on Sunday.

Budapest
Flashback: Auger-Aliassime at age 14, in Sept. 2014. Not so long ago. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

He and fellow 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime upset the No. 1 seeds, Marin and Tomislav Draganja of Croatia, 2-6, 6-2, 11-9 to win the doubles title.

The kids had a roller-coaster ride in the match tiebreak. They were up 6-2 and serving. Suddenly, they were down 7-6, with the Croatian brothers about to serve the next two points.

But they took both those points, and finally converted on their third match point.

Auger-Aliassime was immediately headed to the big tournament in Rotterdam, where he has a wild card and will make his ATP Tour main-draw debut against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.

Rising rankings

When the 24 ranking points she has earned over the last two weeks finally hit the computer, Marino’s ranking will have gone from zero – or infinity, depending on how you look at it – to approximately No. 732.

Budapest
Flashback: Rebecca Marino as a junior 10 years ago, at the 2008 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

(A few years ago, before players like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin made comebacks, you needed to have earned points in three tournaments before you could get a WTA Tour ranking. That was amended.

Now, if you earn 10 points in any one tournament, you qualify. But points from $15,000 ITF tournaments take a minimum of one extra week to show up).

Pospisil’s singles ranking of No. 85 might, at best, move him up one spot because of the points he was defending from the San Francisco Challenger a year ago. But on the plus side, he didn’t lose any ground.

Pospisil would have made the Rotterdam qualifying, and given himself a chance to earn more. But his success in Budapest meant he couldn’t get there in time.

Auger-Aliassime’s doubles ranking will vault from No 1092 to inside the top 500. He’s a fine modern-classic doubles player (a junior US Open doubles champion with fellow Canadian Shapovalov when he was just 15). He just hasn’t played much.

Auger-Aliassime wins 2018 debut in Budapest

Save

Canadian teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime skipped his opportunity to try to qualify at the Australian Open last month.

He had sustained a knee injury in the off-season, likely during the tough two-week training block he did with Roger Federer in Dubai in December.

So his 2018 debut came Tuesday, at the Hungarian Challenger in Budapest.

And after a bit of a slow start, the 17-year-old prevailed 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 over Blaz Rola, an experienced Slovene 10 years his senior.

Rola is currently ranked No. 198 – 31 spots lower than Auger-Aliassime. But he spent plenty of time in the top 100 in 2014 and 2015, shortly after turning pro at age 22 after a standout college career at Ohio State.

The left-hander was an NCAA doubles champion in 2012, and the NCAA singles champion the following year, where he defeated Jarmere Jenkins (now Serena Williams’ hitting partner) in the final.

But as Rola was spending a lot more time at the ATP Tour level, it seems he found the jump in level challenging. That’s something that happens to a lot of players who get their rankings up there on the Challenger level, but find the competition at the top level tough from the very first round.

On Tuesday, as Auger-Aliassime got his aggressive, forward-thinking game sorted, Rola was the one who went down in a blaze of unforced errors.

Rotterdam wild card up next

It was Auger-Aliassime’s first official match since early November. Wisely, those around him didn’t have him hanging out with the Davis Cup team – which was in Osijek Croatia, just a few hours’ drive away – last week to be a hitting partner, or just part of the entourage for the competition he no doubt will headline in a few years. That it was on red clay no doubt factored into that decision.

Instead, he focused on this debut, on a fast hard court.

Auger-Aliassime
The 17-year-old gets some air on his way to a first-round win at the Hungarian Challenger Tuesday (From the tournament’s Facebook page)

Auger-Aliassime had 15 aces and an impressive success rate with both his first and second serves. He was broken twice in the first set when he got just 41 per cent of his first deliveries in – at the beginning, and the end. But he didn’t face a single break point the rest of the way. He served at a 78 per cent rate in the second set, and at 75 per cent in the decider.

Doubles up next

Auger-Aliassime’s second-round opponent will be either Kamil Majchrzak, a 22-year-old ranked No. 214, or qualifier Constant Lestienne, a 25-year-old Frenchman ranked No. 332. They will play on Wednesday.

The Canadian has doubles on Wednesday with Nicola Kuhn of Spain, another 17-year-old.

After this event, Auger-Aliassime has a wild card into the singles draw at the ATP Tour 500 event in Rotterdam.

It will be the highest-level match of his career, so far. And the field is impressive.

Despite all the attention and hopes for his future, Auger-Aliassime, has taken it gradually. He played one match in the qualifying at the Rogers Cup in 2016, when he was just turning 16. And he played another qualifying match at the Basel event in Switzerland last fall, losing to a man twice his age in Julien Benneteau.

He would have played in the Rogers Cup in Montreal last August in his hometown of Montreal. But a wrist injury cost him most of the summer; he ended up returning in the qualifying at the US Open in late August.

(Photos from the Hungarian Challenger’s Facebook page. For more pics of Auger-Aliassime and the other players, click here).

Auger-Alassime to skip Australia

Save

Canadian teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime won’t start the 2018 season as early as he had planned.

A knee issue suffered during practice earlier this week is serious enough that the 17-year-old announced Thursday he is going to skip the entire Australian swing.

Auger-Aliassime had just completed a two-week stint training with Roger Federer in Dubai.

He had been due to play a $75,000 Challenger in Playford, Australia before heading to his first career stab at the Australian Open qualifying.

Auger-Aliassime and Australia

Auger-Aliassime’s history with Australia is star-crossed and fairly limited.

He only played the tournament once as a junior, in 2016 when he was just 15.

It was the first big event at which he received a lot of attention after the historic nature of the things he did on court at a 14-year-old, followed by the win in the US Open junior doubles with Denis Shapovalov.

The agents were everywhere at Melbourne Park, their presence keenly felt.

skip
The agents were in heavy attendance at all of Félix Auger-Aliassime’s junior matches at the Australian Open in 2016. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

And Auger-Aliassime was a fairly agitated character on court throughout. He lost in the first round of the tuneup event in Traralgon, and then in the third round of the main event to Kenneth Raisma of Estonia. 

He said later that he never had a good feeling in Melbourne, never felt the ball well, and admitted he might have been a little burned out. It was also by far the longest trip he’d ever undertaken at the time.

Auger-Aliassime didn’t go to Australia at all this past January. Done with the juniors after winning the US Open boys’ singles in 2016, he played a series of grind-it-out Futures on the Har-Tru in South Florida instead.

Now, he’ll miss it again.

On the plus side, when he finally does make it Down Under again and makes his Australian Open debut, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be in the main draw.

As well, his withdrawal will put his new Davis Cup captain, Frank Dancevic, one step closer to making the qualifying draw with his protected ranking. One more, and Frank the Tank is in.

Auger-Aliassime ready for excellent Fed-venture

Save

Canadian teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime leaves for Dubai on Saturday.

What follows will be the start of an eye-opening experience as the 17-year-old trains with Roger Federer for two weeks.

“We’re communicating with his coach. Not sure which day he arrives but it will be for two weeks, from (December) 5 to 20. I’ll  mostly train with him; no guarantee on what I will do, but it’s becoming clearer,” Auger-Aliassime said in a conference call with the media Wednesday afternoon.

He said it was a great chance to learn from the best.

“You will always motivate yourself by comparing yourself to the best in the world, he said. “It’s a great opportunity, so you have to take advantage of it. But mostly I’ll be trying to prepare myself the best way possible for the 2018 season.”

Auger-Aliassime said he felt the same way as “anyone who follows tennis” about the 19-time Grand Slam champion.

“I admire everything he does on court, off court, the person he is. And my coaches will be there so we can observe more closely what he does well, why he plays at such a high level,” he said. “I don’t know much about him, but I can’t wait to get there, and I can’t wait to train two weeks with him.”

The Canadian, who is 16 months younger than his great friend and frequent doubles partner Denis Shapovalov, has been (somewhat mercifully) improving out of the spotlight a little bit because of what Shapovalov accomplished this summer.

Stable team, steady improvement

But with the exception of the two months he missed during the summer with a wrist injury, Auger-Aliassime made impressive, steady progress up the rankings in his first year out of the juniors.

To his longtime coach Guillaume Marx, with whom he’s been working at the National Training Centre in Montreal for several years, an additional coach has been added.

With Frédéric Fontang, an experienced coach who worked with Auger-Aliassime’s countryman Vasek Pospisil for for years, there is another pair of eyes, another tennis mind to contribute fresh insight.

“Everyone is working great together. It’s been great, and really a stable environment, so that’s what I’m looking for,” Auger-Aliassime said.

“There are a few things I have to work on physically, because I’ve been playing a lot the last part of the year. I have to rebuild a good physical base – with my stamina, my upper body, lower body, explosiveness,” he added. “As well, just keep working on my technique, because I’m still young.

“I want to be more precise in what I’m doing. That will help me make a big step in the rankings, if I can stabilize some things to perfection.”

Major rankings rise in 2017

At the beginning of the season, Auger-Aliassime’s ATP Tour ranking stood at No. 614.

He’s currently at No. 162, just off a career high of No. 153 reached last month.

And he has goals for 2018.

“I’m already playing the qualifying in Australia, so the goal is to qualify for a Grand Slam. Obviously I’d like to qualify for all of them, but let’s start with one,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Then, to be main draw at the US Open, and finish the year in the top 100. It’s an ambitious but quite realistic goal for me. If I put the right things in place, it’s accessible.”

The quick ascent to stardom by his friend Shapovalov is motivating, but not something he looks to as some sort of benchmark.

“We’re very competitive, both of us. Of course you look at it, you want to perform as he did. But you always have to remind yourself that each has their own path. You look at (Milos) Raonic’s path, and those of others who got to the top. They’re all different.

“At the end of the day I’m happy with the work I did this year, and will set my goals with my coaches,  but try not to compare myself too much,” he said.

Keeping it simple

Auger-Aliassime said he’s not at a point where he’s looking to add any sponsors, take advantage financially of the increased attention he received in 2017.

He has been with Nike since the beginning of the year after wearing clothes from his racket sponsor, Babolat, before that.

And, unlike some players who have changed racket sponsors as their pro careers blossomed, he just renewed with Babolat. “I’m in a stable situation with my sponsors, and at the moment I’m not looking to associate myself with more,” he said. “We’ll see what kind of year I have in 2018, and maybe there will be more signings at the end of the season.”

After the Federer training camp, Auger-Aliassime’s first scheduled tournament is a Challenger event in Playford, Australia the first week of January.

He’ll then move on to Melbourne, where he’ll attempt to qualify for the first Grand Slam main draw of his young career.

Félix Auger-Aliassime will train with Fed in Dubai

Save

One of the things that keeps Roger Federer young, in tennis years, is the extra motivation he seems to pull out against his youngest opponents.

Part of that has been his interest, over the years, in bringing the young up-and-comers to Dubai to train with him in the off-season.

Typically, he’ll invite more than one. Because he tends to wear them out.  

Four years ago, 17-year-old Jared Donaldson was Federer’s guest, and he wrote about it here. Colin Altamirano, 18, joined him. In 2014, it was Thanasi Kokkinakis.

This year, Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime is one of the chosen.

The 17-year-old will spend part of December in Dubai training with Federer. 

No doubt it’s the first time Federer, 36, has invited a player with the same birthday (Aug. 8) to his home turf.

“Federer loves tennis, he’s a real fan. He watches the 14- and 15-year-olds play all the time. I think he wants to help the new generation,” Tennis Canada high-performance chief Louis Borfiga said.

Borfiga was speaking at a press conference to wrap up the season in Canadian tennis at the national training centre in Montreal Thursday.

“I also think he likes Félix and his personality. He wants to give back some of what tennis has given to him. He wants to help Félix… maybe avoid some of the traps that would be good to avoid at his age.”

Win-win for Federer

Sounds lovely.

The real reason like is more that Federer likes to scout out his future rivals from a young age. And he also appreciates the young, fresh legs as he pushes himself during his off-season training blocks.

He’ll often go two-on-one, with the two youngsters on the other side.

When Alexander Zverev, currently the No. 3 player in the world, was Auger-Aliassime’s age, he practiced some with Federer.

That included a couple of session at Indian Wells that year.

It’s a great opportunity for Auger-Aliassime, who made the jump to the Challenger level this season and had some great results, and some not-so-great ones.

He ran into the experienced Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round of qualifying at his first-ever Grand Slam, the US Open. That came just a year after he won the junior event in 2016, which is a jump most up-and-comers don’t make so quickly.

He will try again at the Australian Open to reach his first main draw.