There’s no doubt Felix Auger-Aliassime is a talented tennis player. At just 20 years old, the young Canadian is currently ranked 21 in the world. As such, it’s no surprise he’s already made six ATP Tour finals. What is surprising though is that he is yet to win one. Winning a tour-level title is no easy task. Roger Federer, for example, took five attempts to win his first and his career turned out okay.
However, if Auger-Aliassime is going to live up to his potential he must start winning titles sooner rather than later. Will 2021 be the year he breaks his finals duck? We begin our 2021 ATP Tour Players to Watch series with a look at what to expect from the Canadian prodigy this year.
2019 – Three chances at a first title
2019 was undoubtedly Auger-Aliassime’s breakout year on the tour. He started the year with a ranking of 106. It was surprising to some then that he made three tour finals that year. In Rio de Janeiro, an ATP 500 event, he lost to an inspired Laslo Djere in straight sets. However, he was a wildcard in the draw so making the final was an achievement in itself. Djere is a strong clay court player with more tour level experience so there was little shame in the loss. However, the next two finals he made were his to lose and lose them he did.
In Lyon, he was the fourth seed. He beat number one seed Nikoloz Basilashvili to set up a final with the mercurial Frenchman Benoit Paire. Again, he lost in straight sets in a match where the brilliant tennis he had played to reach the final deserted him. In Stuttgart, on the grass, it was much the same story. Auger-Aliassime was the seventh seed. He would go on to lose to an unseeded Matteo Berrettini in the final, again in straight sets.
That match saw him blow five set points in the second set tie-break, one of which was on his serve. This was perhaps the first real sign that Auger-Aliassime simply wasn’t playing his best tennis in the big moments of big matches.
Three finals appearances without a set won would ordinarily be cause for concern, but it was Auger-Aliassime’s first year playing regularly on the tour. He was also only 19 in each of those appearances. Most in the tennis world were certain he would get over the line eventually, he had too much talent not to. However, 2020 brought a familiar story line for the budding star from Montreal.
2020 – more chances, more misery
In 2020, Auger-Aliassime again made three tour finals. Two of those were lost to top players (Alexander Zverev in Cologne 2 and Gael Monfils in Rotterdam) and so the losses are perhaps understandable. The third final was against fellow rising star and long-time rival Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The two met on the indoor hard courts of Marseille in February of last year. Going into the match, the Canadian enjoyed a 3-1 head-to-head record against Tsitsipas. Tsitsipas even said in an interview, prior to finally besting Auger-Aliassime in Shanghai, that it might be a matchup he never wins. However, in the final of Marseille the young Greek star secured a comfortable straight sets win as Auger-Aliassime again failed to capture his first title.
His losses in Rotterdam and Cologne also saw him fail to pick up a set. For a player in and around the top 20 to lose six finals without winning a set is cause for concern. That is particularly true when two of the losses came against players ranked lower than him and one against a player he had previously beaten on three occasions. It appears then that a worrying theme is developing whenever Auger-Aliassime appears in a tournament final.
Game disappears when he needs it most
Rio was his first final and so the loss can be excused. In Cologne he came up against an inspired Alexander Zverev and so that loss can be forgiven too. However, many had him as the favourite to win in the four remaining.
The tennis he played to reach the finals in Lyon, Marseille, and Rotterdam was special. It seemed that he had enough to get over the line in Stuttgart after coming through a gruelling match against Dustin Brown in the second round and he went into the title-match the favourite. However, in each of those finals his game deserted him. Perhaps the best example of that was in Rotterdam where he met Gael Monfils in the final.
Of course, Monfils is an experienced and talented player, and losing to him is nothing to be ashamed of. However, the tennis Auger-Aliassime played to get there was nowhere to be found in a final that was barely a contest.
Auger-Aliassime lost the first set of the match 6-2. It could easily have been six love as he saved three break points in the first of his service games. The second set followed brought much of the same, the young Canadian going down 5-1 before he showing flashes of the tennis that got him there. The match was over in 87 minutes and in truth it wasn’t a contest. Monfils had to do little more than stay in rallies and watch his opponent self-explode.
Hard to back until duck is broken
The same is true of his other finals appearances. When it matters most, the combination of power and accuracy from both wings that makes him so unplayable was nowhere to be found. The fact that he hasn’t won a set in six finals appearances supports the narrative that he simply can’t find his best tennis when it matters most. What lies ahead then for the young star who many feel is a sure thing to enter the top 10 and compete for Grand Slam titles in the near future.
Auger-Aliassime has the game to earn a place inside the top 20 on the men’s tour. However, if his career is to live up to expectation, he must start winning titles. In truth it will be hard to pick him to win any finals he appears in moving forward until he finally gets over the line. But equally, it’s hard not to like his chances of getting there though. More finals surely lie in his future and that one of those will go his way. A player with the talent he has must surely be able to put it all together eventually.
Only time will tell if he can finally break through into the winner’s circle on the men’s tour. Whether he does it this year will be be one of the more intriguing storylines on the tour. As such, it’s fitting that he kicks off our 2021 ATP Tour Players to watch series.
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