WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a week, one of those watershed “firsts” in Félix Auger-Aliassime’s young career will occur.
The 18-year-old will celebrate his 19th at the Rogers Cup, which not only is a Masters 1000 event, but is held in his hometown of Montreal.
To prepare for that tournament by getting some match play on the hard courts, and to keep things on the down low before all the attention he’ll get at home, Auger-Aliassime is at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. this week.
That’s not the only reason, of course. The Citi Open is an ATP 500 event, which offers plenty of ranking points (and prize money).
The young Canadian spent about 10 days in Montreal training after taking a post-Wimbledon break.
On Saturday, he had a practice in the heat of the day, then took to the stadium court at 8 p.m. for a practice that was still going strong when your Tennis.Life chronicler left just after 9:30 p.m.
Peas in a pod
Auger-Aliassime hit with Frances Tiafoe, who is experiencing the same type of thing this week in D.C. Tiafoe is a local. But the advantage he has is that this isn’t his first Citi Open rodeo.
And, of course, there’s Coco Mania, which is sucking up all the early air before the big event begins.
Here they are on court. Auger-Aliassime’s fellow Montrealer Genie Bouchard had the 7-8 p.m. slot just before them, so the two city-twins did run into each other.
WIMBLEDON – On the final day of Wimbledon prep, the training centre at adjacent Aorangi Park was lousy with Canadians.
At 1 p.m., Vasek Pospisil practiced with Belgian Ruben Bemelmans, and Genie Bouchard hit with American Madison Brengle, a former charge of Canadian Fed Cup captain Heidi el Tabakh, who is acting as coach this week.
With about 20 minutes left in that hour session, more Canadians took to the new warmup area that contained the girders for the No. 1 Court last year, and had practice courts No. 1 and No. 2 for years before that.
There, Brayden Schnur, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic warmed up for their 2 p.m. practice sessions.
Shapovalov and Raonic actually practiced together. And right next to them, Auger-Aliassime hit with American Frances Tiafoe.
There were friendly exchanges between Auger-Aliassime’s mother Marie Auger and Raonic’s parents and girlfriend.
Even Erin Routliffe, the New Zealand-born Canadian who moved to Canada at a young age, was on site. Routliffe is an alternate in the women’s doubles draw, with the doubles qualifying having been eliminated this year.
Here’s what it looked like. All that was missing were a few maple leafs sprinkled about the courts.
Say a Canadian “Hiya” to Rog
The next two on Raonic and Shapovalov’s court were … Roger Federer and his old pal Tomas Berdych.
So that got the Canadians a couple of hellos from the man himself.
Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil will square off in an all-Canadian battle – on Canada Day, no less – that should start about 7:30 a.m. EDT.
Raonic will follow on the same Court 12.
Schnur (against Marcos Baghdatis), Shapovalov (against Ricardas Berankis) and Bouchard (against Tamara Zidansek) will play Tuesday.
And on Friday, he upset No. 1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5, 6-2.
“Maybe it’s the intensity I bring, how hard I hit the ball. When I manage to hit the ball heavy, he has trouble. We’re very different players than we were in juniors. Each time, from the first time, I was able to play well against him,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“The first time was in Repentigny in juniors – and from Repentigny to Queen’s a lot of things have changed. But even still, there’s a little psychological advantage. Against him, I believe even more in my chances to win. Sometimes it’s not specific, but little points of reference on certain points, memories of certain important moments, important points now that we’ve played five times.”
Pumped for the doubles
And then he went out to the very small Court 2 to finally play his first-round doubles match.
The winner of Auger-Aliassime and de Minaur vs. Ken Skupski and Dan Evans would have to play another doubles match late in the day against Lopez and Andy Murray.
(Daylight ran out on that one at the end of the second set).
Still, Auger-Aliassime was all guns blazing – and maybe even more pumped than he was during the singles in a 6-3, 7-5 defeat.
“I blamed myself a few times. You have a partner, and you want to play well for him. Plus we had chances in the second set to win. Too bad, maybe we would have had a chance to play again,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“But I’m not going to be too hard on myself, because I’m in the singles semis; I have other things I can concentrate on. But it was a pleasure to play with Alex, he’s a very good person and a very good friend. And it was fun to do something different on the court. I hadn’t played doubles for a long time.”
Big age difference
According to the ATP, the age difference between Auger-Aliassime (18 years, 10 months) and Lopez (37 years, nine months) is the biggest since … 1977.
There, 43-year-old Ken Rosewall played Belgian-born American Pat Dupre, just 23, in the semifinal of a tournament in Hong Kong.
In that instance, the grizzled veteran took the match.
“I think he’s going to be one of the best players in the future, so I’m really looking forward to the match,” Lopez said of the first career encounter with Auger-Aliassime.
LONDON – Félix Auger-Aliassime had a pretty full day Thursday, when he finally made his Queen’s Club debut.
A first-round match against 2014 champion Grigor Dimitrov wasn’t simple, but he got through in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.
And then, he faced Nick Kyrgios, who had defeated lucky loser Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain in his own delayed first-round match.
The first meeting between the 24-year-old Aussie and the 18-year-old Canadian pretty much had everything – and then some, as we’ll show in a photo essay later.
But most of all, it featured a 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3), 7-5 win by Auger-Aliassime.
The Canadian will will play No. 1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Kyrgios hurt his hip/adductor area after a spill on the second point of the third set. But if he’d played lights out until then, the final set was mostly a matter of Kyrgios trying to hold serve, slapping at a few on Auger-Aliassime’s service games, and hoping for a tiebreaker.
In the end, the Canadian was able to break him for the first time in the final game.
After which, Kyrgios decided to chuck his racket – right over the few rows of stands and out onto a concourse.
Few were impressed. Auger-Aliassime can be included amongst that group.
Here he is talking about what a complicated match it is against Kyrgios and how while he respects the player, he’s not a huge fan of the man.
Generally, the players have a “boys will be boys” attitude about Kyrgios’s antics. Many of them like him off the court, and as we know, men tend to be somewhat more forgiving of other men’s flaws.
It’s impressive that Auger-Aliassime, at his age, has such a strong sense of himself. And of what he thinks is right and wrong, what’s acceptable and what isn’t. And that he’s not afraid to speak on it.
LONDON – There was a bit of everything in the astonishing match between Félix Auger-Aliassime and Nick Kyrgios Thursday.
There even was Kyrgios doing fake free-throws the length of the court with tennis balls. They arrived at the ball girls on one bounce.
His aim couldn’t have been better if he’d run over and placed the ball tehre.
And for a couple of sets, the Aussie was all in. He was playing great tennis and giving Auger-Aliassime no rhythm as the Canadian teenager just tried to hang in there.
It turned on the second point of the third set, when Kyrgios had a bad slip and fall.
It appeared (at least from the rather intimate-looking massages he got on back-to-back changeovers), to be his adductor.
After that, Kyrgios basically as playing for a breaker. His serve velocity was way down, but he didn’t put up much of a fight in Auger-Aliassime’s service games.
Here are some of the highlights.
All along, Kyrgios was chuntering. A courtside experience for a Kyrgios match is exponentially better than listening to television commentary.
“I can’t split-step right now. I could barely return his serve before. And now, what hope do I have?” – Kyrgios, to himself.
He wasn’t happy with the line calls, although he had a better sense of humor about it Thursday than he did during his first-round match.
Kyrgios to Keothavong: “What that the latest call you’ve ever heard?”
Keothavong: “It was a late one, yes.”
Intimate court, near the action
The fans in the corner to the umpire’s left, on the deuce side, had to scatter often when the two players served wide (you might well have caught your Tennis.Life correspondent on the streams as a few of them went in my direction, too).
At one point – 4-4 in the third set – a woman got hit with one .
It was on the bounce – of course. She was a little rattled. And so she threw the ball back onto the court before Kyrgios’s second serve.
“Smart. Very smart,” said Kyrgios, who didn’t think it was too smart.
“I’m SORRY!” replied the woman, who wasn’t that sorry.
There were some special guests to watch this one.
A sleepy-looking Tommy Paul (either he’d just had a nap, or he needed one. But he did have a Tootsie Roll supply). Frances Tiafoe, a good friend of Kyrgios’s, was there with his girlfriend Ayan Broomfield (who plays tennis at UCLA and, as it happens, is Canadian).
Thanasi Kokkinakis also arrived.
Racket toss could have been dangerous
In the end, the racket that Kyrgios tossed up after the loss didn’t appear as though it was going to fly too far – and then, suddenly, it flew right over the stands and onto a concourse.
We went out there to interview witnesses, as it were. And the stewards were saying they were pretty shocked to look up and see a racket flying through the air.
They thought it might have come from the stadium court behind them. Luckily, no one was hit by it. But the stewards pointed out that had it been 20 minutes earlier, that concourse was absolutely packed with people.
At this point, of course, everyone who had a ticket was crammed into the stadium court to watch Andy Murray’s return to competitive tennis.
LONDON – They had to get through their first-round matches first – the only players who hadn’t at least started them as Thursday dawned.
But Félix Auger-Aliassime defeated Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-4.
A few minutes earlier, on an adjacent court, Nick Kyrgios took care of lucky loser Roberto Carballes Baena 7-6 (4), 6-3.
There was, as you might imagine, considerably more drama on Kyrgios’s court, as supervisor Ali Nili had to come out after a disputed line call.
And a few … pleasantries were exchanged with chair umpire Fergus Murphy.
But both got it done.
And late in the afternoon in London, these two charismatic, interesting players will meet for the first time in their careers.
Kyrgios, currently ranked No. 39, turned 24 in April.
Auger-Aliassime, currently at a career-high No. 21, doesn’t turn 19 until August.
From fave to opponent
When we did a pre-tournament interview with Auger-Aliassime in the players’ lounge Monday, Kyrgios had just come back from a press conference of his own – in high spirits, playing ping pong (as he’s wont to do).
He’s a different fellow down there, away from the cameras and off the court.
Auger-Aliassime just sort of looked at him, bemused. The Canadian is about as polar opposite as you can get to the fiery Aussie.
His work ethic is already legendary amongst his peers. Every opponent he plays basically says what an amazing guy he is. He is, as they say, a seeeeerious kid with an impeccable reputation already.
Kyrgios is also popular in the locker room. But it’s a different kind of thing – a bit of a guy thing, if you will. It’s like, “Yeah, not a huge fan of some of the things he does on the court, but he’s a great guy.”
Let’s put it this way: you know Auger-Aliassime got a good night’s sleep.
The star-crossed Raonic had been out since he lost to Kyle Edmund in his second match in Miami.
He missed the entire clay-court season. Earlier in his career, Raonic had always managed to pick right up where he left off after an injury absence. But it’s been significantly more difficult for him in the last year.
And the bottom line is that he likely wasn’t at full health when he did come back.
Raonic was the defending finalist in Stuttgart, where he lost to Roger Federer a year ago.
You could see, even as Raonic managed to get through three-set wins against qualifier Alexei Popyrin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the earlier round, that he wasn’t feeling great. He survived both in third-set tiebreaks.
His match against Marton Fucsovics in the quarterfinals on Friday was more routine (6-4, 6-4). But even then, he had the trainer out to rub some heat creme on his back. And he looked uncomfortable throughout.
Wimbledon the goal
Beyond how … not fun it would have been to lose to a decade-younger compatriot when he wasn’t firing on all cylinders, Raonic has had to take a big-picture look at things. He’s got Queen’s Club next week. And then he has Wimbledon.
Still, if you can respect a player for not taking the court when he feels not fit enough to play, Raonic has done this often enough in his career that he risks being tagged with it.
It’s the 10th time he’s done it – the fourth time in the last 14 months.
Great opportunity for FAA
For Auger-Aliassime, it’s a great opportunity to win a title. His opponent is not much more experienced on grass than he is despite being 4 1/2 years older. And Berrettini definitely prefers the clay even if he beat No. 2 seed Karen Khachanov, Nick Kyrgios and the in-form Jan-Lennard Struff to get there.
Berrettini’s first-ever grass-court season was a year ago. He qualified at both Halle (beating Brown in three tiebreaks in the first round of qualifying, something Auger-Aliassime experienced this week) and Eastbourne. He lost first round in both main draws.
He then came back from two sets to none down to defeat Jack Sock in his first-ever match at Wimbledon, before losing to Gilles Simon.
Berrettini also played a match on grass earlier this year in Kolkata, in a Davis Cup qualifier against India.
A year ago, Auger-Aliassime, then 17, skipped the grass-court season entirely to work on his game. He was grinding it out on the clay-court Challenger circuit.
He had the points from a Challenger title to defend this week, won on clay a year ago in Lyon.
He’s done that. He’ll maintain his career-high ranking of No. 21 regardless of what happens in the final.
The kid has grown visibly more comfortable on the surface just through this week. His only previous experience on it was as a junior in 2016. He lost to Alex de Minaur (with whom he’s scheduled to play doubles at Queen’s next week) in the quarterfinals, when he visibly ran out of gas.
He and Denis Shapovalov made the doubles final.
But that was three years ago.
Standout effort against Brown
In Stuttgart, Auger-Aliassime defeated veterans Ernests Gulbis and Gilles Simon in straight sets.
The match against Brown took three tiebreaks to decide. Auger-Aliassime was down 3-5 in the third set. Brown served for it at 5-4, but the Canadian’s ability to consistently put the ball in play on the return served him extremely well.
He made Brown earn it. And the German was almost, but not quite, up to the task.
Auger-Aliassime went through the gamut. He received a code violation for angrily firing a ball out of the court. He buried his head in his towel during one changeover. He slipped and fell a few times – surprisingly, not many.
But he remained resolute. And not only did it pay off in a win Friday, it also will add some terrific experience to his grass-court file.
Berrettini, yet another Italian who has broken through in the last few years on the clay courts, came into the week at a career-high No. 30 in the singles rankings. He’ll be at no lower than No. 24 if he loses. If he wins, he’ll be right behind Auger-Aliassime at No. 22.
No fiddling with the phone. No distractions. Just straight-on focus. How awesome is this kid, really.
It won’t be that long before it might be too much of a hassle for Auger-Aliassime to just sit in the stands at a Slam like that. But for now, he only was asked for a few autographs and was able to enjoy a little normalcy with trainer Nicolas Perrotte and some other Tennis Canada people.
He told Tennis.Life that his rehab was coming along on schedule. And that he was planning to get back on court Monday for the first time.
So far, Auger-Aliassime is still entered in the Stuttgart tournament on grass, which begins in a week.
The final tuneup week for a Grand Slam features mid-level players – plus a top-ranked player or two who felt they didn’t get enough matches during the bigger events earlier in the spring.
That was the case last week with Denis Shapovalov, Alexander Zverev and Stan Wawrinka, among others.
Zverev definitely got the matches he needed, although he had to expend a lot of energy doing it. On the plus side, he got a Tuesday start in Paris.
Meanwhile, 18-year-old Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime passed his pal Denis Shapovalov to take over the No. 2 spot on Canada’s list.
A year ago, entering the French Open qualifying, he was at No. 177.
But Auger-Aliassime paid the price. He reached the Lyon final. But he suffered a Grade 1 tear in his adductor and was forced to pull out of the French Open on Monday.
ON THE UPSWING
Nikoloz Basilashvili (GEO): No. 18 ===========> No. 16 (The Georgian fell to Auger-Aliassime in the Lyon semifinals, but reached a new high in the singles rankings. Unfortunately, he was upset in the first round in Paris).
Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN): No. 28 ===========> No. 22 (Another career high for the Canadian teenager after the Lyon final. But he’s missing the French).
Benoit Paire (FRA): No. 51 ===========> No. 38 (Paire is back in the top 40 after winning the Lyon event. And he backed it up in the first round in Paris with a four-set win over Marius Copiil – losing just one game in the final two sets).
Radu Albot (MDA): No. 45 ===========> No. 40 (The 29-year-old from Moldova reaches the top 40 with his semifinal effort in Geneva).
Taylor Fritz (USA): No. 46 ===========> No. 42 (Overall, it’s been a successful – and full – clay-court season for the American, who is one spot off a career high reached after this year’s Australian Open and gets Bernard Tomic in the first round in Paris).
Nicolas Jarry (CHI): No. 75 ===========> No. 58 (Jarry reached the final in Geneva, losing to Alexander Zverev in a third-set tiebreak).
Brayden Schnur (CAN): No. 112 ===========> No. 106 (The Canadian is back on the winning track and ties his career high after a semifinal effort at the new Challenger in Jerusalem).
Jannik Sinner (ITA): No. 229 ===========> No. 215 (The 17-year-old Italian continues to rise after qualifying in Lyon. Ironically (and this happens more often, statistically, than it should), he lost in the first round to Tristan Lamasine, the player he beat in the final round of qualies).
Steven Diez (CAN): No. 262 ===========> No. 240 (The Spana-Canadian rises with a qualification in Lyon and a first-round win over Bernard Tomic – only the second ATP Tour level win of his career. He took Tsonga to three sets before falling in the second round).
Filip Peliwo (CAN): No. 302===========> No. 267 (A much needed good week for the 25-year-old Canadian, who had fallen out of the top 300 but reached the final in Jerusalem).
ON THE DOWNSWING
Milos Raonic (CAN): No. 17 ===========> No. 18 (Raonic’s clay-court season was basically a wash. And no French Open for the second straight year. The two kids, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov, are getting darn close to him in the rankings, too. It’s going to be an interesting summer).
Tennys Sandgren (USA): No. 87 ===========> No. 100 (A quarterfinalist in Geneva a year ago, Sandgren didn’t play last week as he was battling it out in the French Open qualifying. He made it, but lost in the first round of the main draw).
Peter Gojowczyk (GER): No. 96 ===========> No. 121 (The 29-year-old, at a career best No. 39 less than a year ago, doesn’t defend a finals effort from a year ago in Geneva. He beat Fognini, Seppi and Ferrer, among others, that week. This year, he lost in the first round to Janko Tipsarevic. He lost in the first round in Paris to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga).