Tennis Canada has been in search of its rightful heir in the higher echelons of men’s tennis since Milos Raonic. He was ranked No.3 in the world in 2016, the same year he made the finals at Wimbledon, losing to Andy Murray. NextGen stars Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapavalov have rightly stepped up to their roles since Raonic’s long absence from the game. At the 2022 French Open, it all comes down to Auger-Aliassime to carry the country’s honor as his compatriot Shapovalov exited the tournament in the opening round despite an impressive run at Rome, where he beat Rafael Nadal.
Felix Auger-Aliassime: Vanguard of Canadian Tennis
Having turning pro at age 18 with a promising future, Auger-Aliassime had a rocky road towards winning his first single’s title. He was 0-8 in the finals until this year. In April of 2021, he added legendary coach and Rafael Nadal’s uncle Toni Nadal into his entourage. He followed it with a lackluster clay court run ending with a first round loss at Roland Garros to Andreas Seppi. Auger-Aliassime then lost his 8th ATP final in Stuttgart on Grass to Marin Cilic.
On the grass of Halle, Felix Auger-Aliassime faced his childhood idol and legend of the game, Roger Federer, with whom he coincidentally shares the same birthday (August 8th). He stunned Federer in a 3 set comeback to secure the biggest win of his career. Later at Wimbledon, he reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a five-set win over Alexander Zverev. He eventually fell to finalist Matteo Berrettini. Auger-Aliassime had his maiden Grand Slam semifinal run later that year at the US Open, where he beat Roberto Bautista Agut, Frances Tiafoe, and Carlos Alcaraz along the way. Eventual champion Daniil Medvedev defeated him in straight sets. Auger-Aliassime entered the Top 10 in November after his run into the semifinals at the Stockholm Open. He finished the year ranked No.11 in the world.
Felix Auger-Aliassime in 2022
Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapavalov share a great deal of friendship and camaraderie on and off the court. Together they won the 2015 Us Open Boys doubles title. In the 2022 ATP Cup, the two men were the spearheads of Canadian conquests. Auger-Aliassime helped Canada reach the finals with Round Robin wins over Alexander Zverev and Cameron Norrie. Shapovalov had earlier defeated Pablo Carreno Busta in the first rubber of the finals. Auger-Aliassime helped Canada clinch the title with a straight sets win over Roberto Bautista Agut. This feat also helped him achieve a career high ranking of No.9 in the world.
At the 2022 Australian Open, Auger-Aliassime made a brave run into the quarterfinals where he once again faced Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev again won the encounter in five sets. Following a confident start in Australia, Felix entered the 2022 Rotterdam Open seeded No.3. He beat Andy Murray, Cameron Norrie, and Andrey Rublev before facing top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the finals. Felix beat Tsitsipas in straight sets and claimed his first and only ATP singles title having lost his eight previous finals. He made another final in Marseille the following week, losing to Andrey Rublev in straight sets.
On clay in Rome, Auger-Aliassime made a gallant run into the quarterfinals where he faced the No.1 seed, Novak Djokovic. This was their first encounter. He contested two tightly fought sets before losing 5-7 6-7. Djokovic went on to win the tournament.
Auger-Aliassime at the 2022 French Open
At Roland Garros, the Canadian is seeded No.9 and drawn into the top quarter with Djokovic and Nadal. He escaped a first round scare, being down two sets to love against an unseeded Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas. He eventually won the encounter 2-6 2-6 6-1 6-3,6-3. Normal service was resumed in the second round against Argentine Ugo Carabelli along with a bagel in the first set. He now faces Serbian Filip Krajinovic in the third round. They have split their past four encounters with Auger-Aliassime winning latest one in November 2021 at the Stockholm Open. It’s 1-1 on clay with the Canadaian winning their latest exchange in 2021 in Rome.
Should he get past the Krajinovic test, the Canadian will be faced to overcome the ultimate challenge of Roland Garros of beating 13-time champion Rafael Nadal. With Toni Nadal, who helped him win a majority of those 13 titles, now coaching Auger-Aliassime, it would be a very tricky encounter. The road to the title would get no easier with Djokovic and Alacaraz waiting in the line next.
Following the retirement of one of his idols, Jo Wilfried Tsonga at the French Open a couple of days ago, Auger-Aliassime said, “It’s a weird feeling because I can in a way relate to that and put myself in that position where like one day I’m going to play my last match, my last game, my last point. When it gets to that point, it’s really emotional.” The Canadian has a while to get there. He hopes to achieve much bigger things before he could call it a day. Much before all of that, his mind would now only focus on facing his next round opponent Krajonic and getting a W to set up a date with Nadal in the Round of 16.
Main Photo from Getty.