Auger-Aliassime’s desert debut a success

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.

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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.

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