April 18, 2024

Open Court


ROLAND GARROS – This time of the season is a fairly key period for Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime.

It’s the second Grand Slam tournament of the season, with the resultant ranking points and prize money. But it’s also a time when the 22-year-old Canadian, whose major sponsors are France-based, wants to shine and valuate those relationships.

Unfortunately for Auger-Aliassime, Roland Garros hasn’t been good to him so far in his career. And on Monday, the bad news continued as he went out 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to Fabio Fognini of Italy.

His Roland Garros is over – almost before it began.

Shoulder – and an untimely illness

It wasn’t enough that Auger-Aliassime was dealing with a shoulder injury – an issue with the clavicle that most affects his powerful forehand.

That wasn’t great. And to literally add insult to injury, he fell sick with a stomach virus the night before his match with Fognini. He didn’t get much sleep – and no doubt he left out some of the more … visceral details of his Sunday night.

But he gamely took the court, with the sounds of the BNP Paribas supporters’ brass band cheering him on (he’s a face of BNP Paribas).

But by the end of the first set, it was clear something was up. The first thought was that it might have been the knee, which caused him to miss Monte Carlo last month and has been an ongoing problem, that was affecting his movement.

But he took a bathroom break, and then was given something by the tournament medical staff for cramping.

“I saw the doctor before the match, and I thought maybe there was something I could take, electrolytes, to help me with my cramps, but I wasn’t really in good shape,” he said. “Maybe it helped me a little bit. I may have had a little less cramps than I would have had, but I was far from being able to win.”

As we’ve all experienced, this type of thing will cause you to become very dehydrated – hence the cramping on a surprisingly warm day, with the sun beating down on the players’ heads.

“I woke up this morning trying – I mean, it’s like I’ve been struggling with a few things, and an
you believe it, I get sick the day before my match?” a downcast Auger-Aliassime said afterwards in a press conference. “I wasn’t sure whether I should keep going or give myself a shot or if I should stop. It was a difficult time, but it’s okay. I just need to get healthy again.”

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Second time in two weeks

Add to that the fact that while Auger-Aliassime was given a green light to compete and not risk making the shoulder issue worse, it … wasn’t good. He was trying to manage with therapy and anti-inflammatories. But Auger-Aliassime’s game is built around his big serve and forehand. With the issue affecting the forehand, he’s not the same player.

More concerning is the fact that Auger-Aliassime said he suffered the same stomach issues last week in Lyon, where he won a match but withdrew before his quarterfinal with the shoulder problem.

Already out of Paris, he’ll have a full two weeks to look into things – more detailed examination of the shoulder, and a battery of tests to decipher the gastrointestinal issue.

“I hope that will help and I can play on grass in two or three weeks, but it’s difficult to say. I think I must go home, take some tests because I didn’t have time to do the specific tests. I have to do a battery of tests to see why I was sick here, why I was sick a week ago and, see what’s happening,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I tried everything. I tried to hang on, but next time I’m on the court I want to be in good shape.”

Here’s what it looked like.

The curse of Lyon

Auger-Aliassime took a wild card into Lyon, which is the week before Roland Garros, to get some matches after losing his opening matches in both Madrid and Rome. Those expanded, two-week tournaments might have their pluses. But if you lose early in both (as his compatriots Leylah Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu both did as well), you find yourself having gone through an entire month of the season, having only two matches in the books.

That’s hardly ideal preparation for a Grand Slam tournament. And so – despite what happened last time he went to Lyon at the ATP Tour level, Auger-Aliassime decided to go.

That’s when the shoulder issue began. And the first bout with illness.

Back in 2019, still just 18 years old, Auger-Aliassime played Lyon ahead of his main-draw debut at Roland Garros. And he was to be seeded, as well.

He made the final. But he injured his adductor in the process. He did play the match against Benoit Paire, but he was clearly hampered and a few days later, had to withdraw from his Roland Garros debut.

After 2019, Auger-Aliassime lost in the first round at Roland Garros to Yoshihito Nishioka (early in his career, this man was an absolute beast for the Canadian to play) in 2020, and then to a late-career Andreas Seppi in 2021.

But a year ago, he made the fourth round. And he went five sets with the man who went on to win his 14th Roland Garros crown, Rafael Nadal.

It was an impressive a performance as he’s displayed, perhaps in his career – especially given the disparity in accomplishment with his opponent on this particular surface.

He had a good draw, no doubt. But he also came back from losing the first two sets, 6-2, 6-2 to Juan Pablo Varillas of Peru in the first round.

At the same time, after being in the top tier for the last year and a half, Auger-Aliassime is almost certainly going to fall out of the top 10 after the tournament. It’s impossible to predict how far – although he’ll likely still be in the top 15 – because the results of a chunk of players in the No. 11 – No. 22 range have yet to be determined.

It’s symbolic, more than anything – an arbitrary line in the sand, a round number to delineate the very best. But it still is.

Going back to the start of 2022, Auger-Aliassime has been in the top 10 for the last 28 consecutive weeks – and 57 of the last 62 weeks.

Eyes on FAA in Paris

The “quinzaine” in Paris is fairly key off the court for Auger-Aliassime as well.

While it seems Canadian companies (bar a couple of smaller collaborations) have been slow to step up to the plate for a player who literally checks every box you could want, he’s … BIG in France.

He has been everything in the leadup to Roland Garros – and he’s not even French. It’s a lot of responsibility.

More on that here.

FAA is all over the grounds at Roland Garros

Auger-Aliassime dismissed the notion that nerves might be a factor in all of this.

“There are still quite a lot of tournaments coming up and I trust that if things get better, I will be able to play well and have good moments on the court this year. I shouldn’t panic. It’s a difficult time. I have to do my best, taking into account the situation,” he said. “No, I don’t think (nerves are a factor). You can come to any hypothesis, but I don’t think I’m being nervous. It’s not my first Paris Grand Slam. It’s not my first Grand Slam. It’s just that I’m not feeling well.

“I was not feeling very nervous these days. I just got up and wasn’t feeling well. That’s all.”

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