Felix hits his stride

Ninth-ranked Canadian stepped things up ahead of fourth round test against Cilic

Felix Auger-Aliassime Australian Open 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

When you’re someone like Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was already featuring in Challenger main draws at the age of 14; expectations come at you high and fast.

Now 21 and ranked No.9 in the world, the talented Canadian has grown accustomed to that kind of pressure and has figured out ways to handle it.

The Montreal native lost in the opening round in three of his first four Grand Slam main draw appearances before breaking through at the 2020 US Open by advancing to the last 16, defeating former world No.1 Andy Murray along the way before falling to eventual champion Dominic Thiem.

Since then, Auger-Aliassime has turned a corner at the majors, and has now made the fourth round in five of his last seven participations, including the ongoing Australian Open.

Last season, he made his top-10 debut on the back of a quarter-final showing at Wimbledon, and a career-best US Open semi-final result.

Staying in the moment

He kicked off his 2022 campaign by captaining Canada to the ATP Cup title and will face Marin Cilic on Monday for a place in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

While Auger-Aliassime dreams of going all the way in Melbourne, he is trying to focus on the task at hand rather than look ahead.

“I try not to, but we're all humans at the end of the day. Like anybody, you project yourself, you have your goals, your objectives in the future, but I really try to keep myself in the present, try to enjoy the moment, try to enjoy my time on the court,” said the Canadian, who is through to the Australian Open last 16 for a second consecutive year.

“At the end, putting myself in let's say semi-finals like I did in US Open is never easy. I came through two tough matches that I could have lost in the first two rounds here.

“I think nothing is granted. Nothing is easy. It's not like you are just granted a semi-final pass in the future. So I have to grind, I have to win every match and deserve my position to be playing in semi-finals, eventually in a final again. It's never going to be easy.”

Tricky tests

Indeed, Auger-Aliassime had to labour through two tough opening rounds this fortnight at Melbourne Park before cruising past Dan Evans in straight sets on Saturday.

He needed five sets to overcome Finland’s world No.90 Emil Ruusuvuori before dismissing Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in four tiebreak sets.

In total, Auger-Aliassime has spent nearly 10 hours on court en route to the Australian Open second week, hitting 52 aces along the way, winning 75 percent of his first-serve points and hitting 125 winners through three matches.

He feels more at ease with his position deep in the tournament, now that he has established himself as a serious threat over the past few majors.

“I think you just feel more in your place. It's like everything in life, when you break new grounds, you don't feel, let's say, as comfortable, or you kind of feel out of your comfort zone. Now of course playing more and more Grand Slams and I have gone to semi-finals, I feel like, I feel more in my place,” said Auger-Aliassime.

“I also know that matches are long. You have to stay relaxed, stay composed, stay calm, because you know there is going to be opportunities to come back. We saw it in the first round. So really, I think I'm just more relaxed and more composed and have better self-confidence that I can go into second week, I can go into quarters or more.

“So for sure past experiences, what they do is just to give more confidence but they don't grant you any wins.”

Learning from Toni

Auger-Aliassime has a lot going for him; but one item he has yet to check off his bucket list is winning an individual ATP title.

The Québécois has lost all eight ATP finals he has contested so far – a stat that could haunt him every week had he not surrounded himself with a great team consisting of co-coaches Frederic Fontang and Rafael Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni Nadal.

Felix Auger-Aliassime and Toni Nadal, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Julien Crosnier/FFT

“This mentality with Toni, this champion mentality that I call it, for us we’re trying to build this mentality where I’m in the present of being humble, not too worried about the future, not too frustrated about the past and I feel like that’s what we’ve been trying to do and that’s the vision to be hopefully one day… close to that near-perfect balance of being in the present,” Auger-Aliassime said at the Washington tournament last year.

He enters Monday’s clash with Cilic – scheduled on John Cain Arena not before 2pm local time – trailing the Croatian No.27 seed 0-3 in previous meetings.

On track

Win or lose, Auger-Aliassime is content with the pace of his progress, unburdened by the high expectations he has been shouldering since his early teen years.

“The majority of what I've done, I can't complain,” he assures. “At the same time, I'm never a person to be satisfied. I always want to be better. But I'm happy with my progress. I think just year after year I've just become a better player, a better person also.

“When I say that I mean mentally on the court. I think matches, like today (against Ruusuvuori), two years ago, would have probably went out in three, four sets. Today I was able to win in five.

“So I think that shows my progress that I've made as a person mentally on the court. But of course I wish I had won a lot of titles. I wish I was even higher always. But it's the reality. Also at the same time it's like this career is also accepting what you have and working to get more.”