In the first set of the first match of the next step in his professional career, 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime looked like he was feeling the nerves.
But it passed. And while the Canadian teenager fell just short of pulling off an upset against world No. 38 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, he could leave the court with his head held high.
Krajinovic, eight years older at 25, pulled off a 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 victory that puts him into the second round of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Auger-Aliassime gained some valuable experience. And he also showed how much his on-court maturity has skyrocketed over the last 12 months.
As disappointed as he was, he managed a smile for his opponent at the net, something he had trouble doing earlier in his career. And he applauded the fans as he walked off the court.
And above all, he kept his cool when he found himself in a fix.
The Montrealer also showed how much stronger he has become, with first serves regularly landing in the 210 km/hour (130 mph) range.
It was almost, but not quite, enough.
Early nerves led to slow start
“The nerves got to me a little bit in the first set. I started not bad the first two games, but still I felt tight. I felt my ball wasn’t going as it usually does, playing pretty short, not serving so well. The plan was to just hang in there mentally. It was in my control to stay tough mentally, and that’s what I did,” Auger-Aliassime told the media in Rotterdam, as reported on the ATP Tour website.
“That’s why I was so close to winning the match, but he did great. I think he did great on the important points, saving break point. I think he was a little bit tougher than me on those points,” he added.
The crucial seventh game
Auger-Aliassime’s shot came in the seventh game of the third set, with the score tied at 3-3 and Krajinovic always serving first and putting the pressure on.
Auger-Aliassime had love-40 on the Serb’s serve.
He did very little wrong; Krajinovic did everything right, including getting in some strong first serves that, even if they didn’t approach the velocity of his younger opponent’s delivery, were highly effective all the same.
After that, Auger-Aliassime held serve once to stay in the match. But he couldn’t do it a second time and force a decisive tiebreaker; he was broken at 5-6. And that was it.
Auger-Aliassime wasn’t helped by the fact that, in that last game, he broke a string on the 30-all point, losing the point and setting up Krajinovic’s first match point. He saved that one, but the momentum was all with the Serb from there; it felt as though Auger-Aliassime was swimming upstream the rest of the way.
Forehand giveth, and taketh
There were 198 total points in the match. And nearly a third of them (61) were wholly dependant on Auger-Aliassime’s heavy forehand.
He earned 24 winners with it; he also made 37 unforced errors with it.
Auger-Aliassime went 12-for-20 at the net. And had he made even a couple of the tougher volleys he missed, he might be playing again on Thursday.
The kid won’t have to wait long for his second attempt at the ATP Tour level. He has received another wild card next week, into the 250-level event in Marseille, France.
“I think we’ll start from here. I’m just starting my season, second tournament, and it’s exciting. A lot of new things around. I think I’m dealing with them pretty well, but we’ll start from here. It’s really encouraging the level that I played at the end of the match,” he said.
(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)