INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – If you could choose which player ranked in the top 10 you had to face first, the options could be worse than the one you went undefeated against in the juniors, right?
And so, Félix Auger-Aliassime was welcomed into the big time Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open.
The 18-year-old Canadian continued where his junior mastery left off against 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. And that was true even though he expected, and saw, a far different player than back when they were “kids”.
The 6-4, 6-2 victory took an hour and 17 minutes and was a lot about Auger-Aliassime’s power and takeover of of court territory. It was also about a less-than-fresh Tsitsipas, who said he’ll have to start looking for solutions against a player who clearly is not a good matchup for him.
He’d better get at it.
If all goes as planned, it’s likely these two will be seeing a lot of each other over the next decade or so.
First top-10 win
Auger-Aliassime has played three top-20 players in his short career. He has won all three matches.
He defeated Lucas Pouille (then No. 18) at the Rogers Cup in Toronto last summer. A few weeks ago in Rio, he upset No. 16 Fabio Fognini (the No. 2 seed) in the first round on his way to the final.
And now, in his first match against a player in the top – albeit, the youngest, newest member – he prevails again.
Here’s some of what he had to say afterwards.
Auger-Aliassime is the fifth-youngest to ever beat a top-10 player for the first time. For whatever it’s worth (and it’s definitely not a sign of future success, but of potential), the other four are Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and … Gaël Monfils.
What a difference a year makes
Tsitsipas gave huge credit to Auger-Aliassime for his stellar play.
But he also cut a bit of a forlorn figure, almost marvelling at Auger-Aliassime’s energy.
He admitted he didn’t have a whole lot of it himself. And that is the flip-ahead for Auger-Aliassime in a couple of years, if he continues progressing.
This is the seventh tournament for Tsitsipas in 2019: Sydney, the Australian Open (where he reached the semis), Sofia, Rotterdam (a first-round loss), Marseille (a title) and then Dubai (a loss in the final to Federer after tough three-setters in three of the four matches leading up to it).
And then – straight to Indian Wells.
And even though he had five or six days to acclimate to the rather unique conditions, what he probably needed even more was a break.
“I mean, my mind at the moment is not very fresh. I feel like I had enough of tennis already, but still doesn’t mean anything. … He deserved that victory. He won it by himself. I didn’t give it to him. But me, I mean, myself I would say that just so much tennis that when you do the same thing over and over again, your mind gets so tired and you’re not the same focused like before,” he said.
“And unfortunately, it happened here. I think taking some small break before Miami will probably help. But, I mean, I’m a bit disappointed because I really wanted to do well here. It’s a really nice place to get some good results and play well.”
A little variety to the tennis diet
The way it sounded, Tsitsipas is a little tired of the monotony of doing the same thing, day after day, week after week. This is the grind of being a tennis player. And as the Greek star goes deeper into draws week after week, he’s going to have to figure out how to keep himself fresh.
“Maybe disconnect a bit from the sport and do something else, not even watch it at all. Like, don’t watch tennis at all. In our level of game, sometimes — I mean, in other jobs as well, when you do something, you know, with a lot of intensity and a lot of focus and a lot of will, sometimes your mind cannot keep up and you get tired. You cannot do the same thing over and over again,” he said. “And that’s why I admire the players like Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal. They seem to be so consistent in all they’re doing.”
Sounds like coach Dad will have to find some different drills, some ways to make it a little more fun. Because a steady diet of those kinds of feelings for too long is a burnout waiting to happen.
“I don’t know. Probably mix it up. That’s the only solution, to be consistent. I don’t know. Don’t do the same thing. Just maybe serve and volley one day, the other one you can just stay back,” Tsitsipas said. “It’s all of this variety in your game can probably help you be more fresh. I don’t know. I don’t know myself, to be honest.”
Auger-Aliassime fresh as a daisy
For Tsitsipas’s 18-year-old opponent, this is all uncharted territory. And that alone makes it a whole lot of fun.
The Canadian has played a lot of tennis. But he’s only had a few weeks where he really did well. And his evident vigor and eagerness made Tsitsipas look all the more flat on Saturday.
He’s also playing really, really, really high-level tennis. And even if he got the early-bird 11 a.m. slot both times, Auger-Aliassime was scheduled on the big stadium.
“I want to win as much as I can. I want to go as far as I can as a player. You know, I don’t know what my limits will be, but, you know, I try to work hard every day to go as far as I can. I want to probably feel all the emotions that I can feel, you know, on these courts, win as many trophies as I can,” he said.
“Yeah, there is no real limits for me.”
Along that road, it’s worth at least paying a modicum of attention to his opponent Saturday, who has arrived where the young Canadian wants to be in short order.
Maybe even ahead of schedule, if you compare his road to that of the younger rival he never defeated in the juniors.
Auger-Aliassime will play speedy Japanese lefty Yoshihito Nishioka in the third round.