Canadian teen Félix Auger-Aliassime won the Lyon Challenger in June, at age 16.
Now, at the ripe old age of 17, he’s not slowing down a bit
The Montrealer downed veteran Spaniard Iñigo Cervantes 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 Saturday night to win the Copa Sevilla, a €64,000 Challenger event. Cervantes had been leading 7-6, 3-0 before Auger-Aliassime, surprisingly boosted by the Spanish crowd, came back.
Auger-Aliassime’s ranking should move up nearly 60 spots from No. 226 to about No. 168 on Monday. That’s an aggregation two week’s worth of effort. Auger-Aliassime reached the second round at the US Open qualifying in New York. He then posted a second-round result at a Challenger in Como, Italy last week and then took the Sevilla title.
At 17 years and a month, the Canadian is the youngest player inside the top 200 since Rafael Nadal in 2002.
“I’m aiming for way more than that, so there’s still a lot of work to do, so hopefully I can keep going,” he added. “I was aiming for the top 200 at the start of the year, so I’ll probably fix new objectives with my coach, but I’m not fixing any limits.”
“Feels obviously great. I’ve been through a bit of injuries through the summer but me and my team did a great job to come back healthy as fast as possible. I had a tough week at first, but I think I made an unbelievable effort mentally to stay in the tournament, and it paid off at the end,” Auger-Aliassime said.
Auger-Aliassime is the second-youngest ever to win multiple Challenger tournaments in a season. (The youngest-ever was Richard Gasquet of France). He defeated the No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 seeds on his way to the Sevilla final.
Cervantes, ranked No. 246 (with a career high of No. 56 last year), was unseeded.
Match point melodrama
The match ended with a fair bit of drama, as Cervantes – a Spaniard playing in Spain, let’s not forget – had some big issues with a line call on match point.
He kicked up quite a fuss. And much debate ensured. The linesman who made the call even came out several times to point out the mark.
Cervantes went over to the sidelines to speak at length with someone.
And then he pleaded his case again as a supervisor came out onto the court.
Cervantes isn’t above a little gamesmanship. Check out this story, five years ago in the final round of Wimbledon qualifying, in a match against Auger-Aliassime’s fellow Montrealer Erik Chvojka.
It was difficult to see on the livestream exactly what the problem was. What was clear was that the ball was called wide, and that the chair umpire stayed with the call. But we’re told that in the end, young Auger-Aliassime – who stood by calmly while all of this was being hashed out to a more-or-less satisfactory conclusion – graciously offered to replay the point.
He certainly was under no obligation to do so. He made quick work of it with a big first serve and an inside-out forehand winner.
Here’s what it looked like (the drama starts at about the two-hour, 34-minute mark).
Afterwards, Cervantes moaned on social media about how upset he was that the Spanish crowd was fully behind the charismatic young Canadian. And that some of them had been yelling profanities at him.
“Disappointed … very hard and sad to be playing a final of a challenger in your country, very close to winning the tournament and feel that most of crowd was supporting your opponent. It was hard to accept that and affected me a lot. I cannot understand it!” he Tweeted, adding in another Tweet that he thought Auger-Aliassime was a good guy, and a great player.
Cervantes got into it with a few folks on Twitter. One suggested that a bunch of people in the crowd had gotten together to put a large wager on Auger-Aliassime, and that’s why they were backing him as the match went on. It went on Saturday night and into Sunday.
It was pretty clear, even on the stream, who the crowd favorite was by the end.
Cold summer, hot fall
After winning the Lyon event, Auger-Aliassime played the following week in Blois, France. But after that, a wrist injury kept him on the shelf the entire summer.
He even missed his hometown Masters 1000 tournament, the Rogers Cup.
Auger-Aliassime returned at the US Open, where he won the junior event a year ago. It was his first time attempting to qualify for the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament. After a routine victory over Hiroki Moriya of Japan, he fell to veteran serve-volleyer Sergiy Stakhovsky 7-6 (8), 6-4 after holding set points in the first set.
The Canadian, whose countrymen are in Edmonton, Alberta this week playing a World Group playoff tie against India (the Tennis Canada braintrust, despite some question marks on the Canadian side, decided to keep Auger-Aliassime on his schedule playing on the European clay), is in Banja Luka, Bosnia this week playing another Challenger.
His first-round opponent will be Blaz Rola of Slovenia.