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Felix Auger-Aliassime Doubles Up In Antwerp

Felix Auger-Aliassime won the ATP Antwerp Open.

If it is not yet a feast for Felix Auger-Aliassime, then at least his trophy famine is well and truly over, after he won in Antwerp this weekend just a week after triumphing in Florence. Having never won an ATP Tournament before this year, the young Canadian has now won two in succession and three in total. As a result, he is finally proving that he has the consistency that is required of any top player. And before 2022 is over he may yet have another career highlight, if he can make it to the ATP Tour Finals in Turin and/or lead Canada to success in the Davis Cup.

An Impressive Weekend In Antwerp

Antwerp in 2022 may not have the importance that it did six hundred years ago, when Thomas Cromwell could claim (in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall) that its money-lending capacity was so great that all power in Europe flowed from it, but its ATP 250 event is still one of the stand-out events on the autumnal European indoor circuit. Three years ago, Andy Murray proved that he was nowhere near retirement when he won in Antwerp after hip surgery and this weekend Félix Auger-Aliassime (or F2A as he is so often called in our age of acronyms) proved that he may yet follow in the footsteps of Murray as a Major-winner.

Auger-Aliassime attained and maintained a superbly high level of play in defeating Dan Evans, Richard Gasquet and Sebastian Korda in the quarter-final, semifinal and final respectively. The hardest of those three matches was actually the first, as Dan Evans was at his mercurial best for almost all of the first two sets before Auger-Aliassime won the second set on a tie-break and then raced away with the third set to win the match 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2.

The Canadian faced another of the game’s most impressive single-handed backhands when he played a resurgent Richard Gasquet in the semifinal. And yet he showed even more athleticism and, crucially, poise in the big moments to win in straight sets, 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (7-3). In convincingly winning three tie-breaks in two matches against two such experienced and skilful opponents as Evans and Gasquet, Auger-Aliassime showed again that he is finally gaining the composure and sheer self-belief to hang tough in difficult situations, such as when he cannot break his opponent’s serve, and then spring to life like the proverbial cat in a tie-break.

It had been anticipated that Auger-Aliassime would face his toughest match of all in the final against Sebastian Korda, another young player who has had a quietly impressive 2022. In the end, however, it appeared that Korda had been fatally weakened, if not actually injured, in his epic semifinal against the most resurgent veteran of them all right now, Dominic Thiem, who he finally beat in three sets,  6-7 (4-7) 6-3 7-6 (7-4).

Korda had shown enough against Thiem, particularly with a brilliant dropshot that ended one epic rally, to suggest that he is finally adding some of his father’s fabled dexterity and deftness to his own natural power and pace. However, in the final against Auger-Aliassime he appeared to have nothing left to give and was surprisingly beaten in a relatively straightforward fashion, 6-3, 6-4.

Auger-Aliassime Is Finally Exhibiting Crucial Consistency

If it somehow feels that Auger-Aliassime has been around forever, then that is because he has, or at least for a very long time. Now aged 22, he became the youngest ever player to win a match on the second-tier Challenger tour when he was only 14, a record that still stands. He then made solid and occasionally spectacular progress throughout the rest of his teenage years, culminating in what had appeared to be his Major breakthrough last year, when he reached the quarter-final at Wimbledon (where he lost to Matteo Berrettini) and the semifinal at the US Open (where he lost to eventual winner Daniil Medvedev).

When Auger-Aliassime was then instrumental in Canada winning the ATP Cup in Australia at the start of the season, beating Spain in the final, it appeared that he was set for more success at the Majors, but it has not worked out that way. However, while he has faltered somewhat in the Grand Slams this year, he has at last begun to translate his undoubted physical attributes (he is 6 foot four and moves like lightning around the court) into silverware.

Having astonishingly lost all of his first eight ATP finals before this year, Auger-Aliassime finally crossed the line first in Rotterdam, when he achieved a bonfire of the seeds by beating Cameron Norrie and defending champion Andrey Rublev en route to the final, before putting on arguably his finest ever display in any match, let alone a final, when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets, 6-4, 6-2. He may then have had to wait until the autumn before adding a second ATP title to the list, which he did in Florence last week, but he then immediately made it a hat-trick by winning again in Antwerp this week.

Such back-to-back winning is the highest form of consistency there is and shows that the very young man (indeed, boy) who first broke on to the Challenger and ATP Tours nearly a decade ago is finally maturing and realising all his potential. If Carlos Alcaraz has seemed to come from nowhere to win his first Major (the US Open) and go to World No.1 this year, then Auger-Aliassime is a reminder that, as Arthur Miller famously put it, “everyone has their own personal velocity” and therefore must develop at their own pace.

Is A Spectacular End To The Season In Store?

In the coming weeks, Auger-Aliassime will have another chance to “double up”, as he bids to reach the ATP Finals in Turin (he is currently ranked #9 in the world and only the top seven will qualify after Novak Djokovic’s Wimbledon triumph, but it is possible that, as has often been the case in recent years, Rafael Nadal will withdraw rather than participate) and then spearheads Canada’s challenge in the Davis Cup Finals in Spain next month.

In the Davis Cup Finals, Auger-Aliassime will again team up with Denis Shapovalov, the other golden boy of Canadian tennis with whom he has been linked for so long. However, there is no doubt that Auger-Aliassime has now definitively pulled ahead of Shapovalov, who has had a relatively poor season by his own high standards and is currently ranked only 19th in the world.

Nevertheless, if Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov can pair up as dynamically as they did at the ATP Cup at the start of the season, when they played both singles and doubles, they can prove that Canada rivals Italy as the coming power in men’s tennis. It will certainly not be easy, because even if they beat Germany in the quarter-final they will almost certainly face Italy in the semifinal before, most likely, facing Carlos Alcaraz and Spain on a home court in the final. But given the form he has shown at the end of the season, Auger-Aliassime will relish facing such a challenge and may now be finally capable of meeting it.

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