June 22, 2021

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Auger-Aliassime finds path to victory on Stuttgart grass

Auger-Aliassime finds the winner's circle in his opening match in Stuttgart (Screenshot: TennisTV)

A long clay-court season full of ups and downs is in the rear-view mirror for Félix Auger-Aliassime, even if Roland Garros is still going on Paris.

The first-round loss to Andreas Seppi was a major disappointment during a clay campaign that also featured some very good wins (Diego Schwartzman, Denis Shapovalov). It also featured losses to many of the most in-form players on the dirt (Stefanos Tsitsipas, Casper Ruud, Federico Delbonis, Lorenzo Musetti, Cristian Garin).

If you put it in perspective – beyond the loss to Seppi – those were pretty tough draws.

But that was then. The grass is now.

Defending finalist a winner in Stuttgart

The 20-year-old Canadian opened his turf campaign Thursday with a 6-4, 7-6 victory over Lloyd Harris of South Africa at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart.

He is the No. 3 seed in Stuttgart, right behind Shapovalov at No. 1, and Hubert Hurkacz at No. 2.

It was, like many of Auger-Aliassime’s matches this year, a bit of a slog to get to the handshake. He was up 5-3 in the second set and served for it at 5-4 – only to be broken. He had to save two set points at 5-6 in the set, too.

In the end, he recovered well, played an excellent tiebreak, and got through to play No. 6 seed Ugo Humbert in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Auger-Aliassime recovered from a bobble late in the second set to defeat Lloyd Harris 6-4, 7-6 Thursday. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Confidence: a combination of elements

“I’ve had moments where I’ve been hitting the ball very well. Physically, I’m fine. So each week I give myself the opportunity to play well. Of course, there’s always that confidence aspect we talk about a lot in tennis,” Auger-Aliassime told Open Court after the win.

“It’s difficult to explain, this notion of confidence. It comes from the mastery of what you do, from training, from repetition, from how you move. It comes from many things.  But at a certain point, outcomes in tennis hinge on very little – a few points here and there can make a difference. When you’re confident, they mostly go your way.  You make good choices at the right moments. You play more free and relaxed. So certain factors mean you can find the path to victory more easily. But every match is tough to win.

“In the past, I’ve made tournament finals after saving match points earlier in the tournament. So many situations occur. But you just have to stay consistent in your state of mind, your mentality, do your best, and be happy with your work, and you’ll find the way.”

Auger-Aliassime talks to the media via Zoom after his win Thursday in Stuttgart.

Not forgotten: a fine grass campaign in 2019

It’s been two years since the players have competed on grass, after the entire swing – including Wimbledon – was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

So the last time Auger-Aliassime played on the greens, he was an 18-year-old in his first pro grass season.

And he was just three years removed from a quarterfinal effort in the 2016 Wimbledon juniors, where he ran out of puff against Aussie Alex de Minaur.

His friend Denis Shapovalov won the junior tournament, beating de Minaur in the final.

Auger-Aliassime as a 15-year-old playing the Wimbledon juniors in 2016.

It was the start of a lot of things, as Auger-Aliassime won the US Open juniors less than two months later.

Here’s what that 2019 grass-court season looked like.

The reality is that Auger-Aliassime is, finally, going to have to defend those 420 points he earned two years ago – including a finals result in Stuttgart.

Even if all those points fell off, Auger-Aliassime would still be in the top 30. It’s not a “crunch time” sort of issue. But it’s pressure nonetheless – a far cry from what the Canadian remembers of that first grass campaign.

“I was serving really well. So that helped me a lot. I was moving quite well on defence, managing to neutralize the rally even though the surface is quick, and moving isn’t exactly easy,” he said.

“But two years ago, I was young, there were no expectations. It was my first season on grass. There wasn’t a lot of pressure,  I was very free, I played well, and things were going my way. It’s a great memory but despite that, I have qualities in my game that mean I should be able to play well on it,” he added.

“That’s how I play my best tennis, when I play free. Even if I miss a few balls, a few opportunities. That’s the most important for me, to play on my terms, with my strengths. If I do that, things will go fine.”