FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime has navigated his 2023 travails with a calm, reasoned demeanour, as he’s talked about finding solutions and looked for any positives.
So here’s the question Open Court had for him Friday, during his pre-tournament media availability before this year’s US Open.
Is there even a little part of him underneath that mature, pragmatic exterior that just wants to get COMPLETELY #*@&$ed off – just LOSE his &%^$$ and vow to himself, “Nuh, nope, it’s just NOT GOING TO GO DOWN LIKE THIS.”
(I used one of Auger-Aliassime’s favorite expletives in place of the punctuation. But as we know from recent experience how the trash websites steal stuff and publish bad Google Translate versions, we’ll just leave that out here).
In other words, not get even, get MAD.
The 23-year-old pondered this for a moment.
“Well, I’ve really never been like that. I’ve lived through difficult periods in the past. And it never served me well to get angry – REALLY angry. Because you keep a bad memory of a loss if you’ve gotten really, really angry, as I have in the past,” he said. “And I found that you dread an eventual defeat so much or you dread the match, you tell yourself, ‘If I lose, I’m going to be so #*@&$ed off like the last time’. I just can’t have it be so bad after a loss.
“Of course, in the moment, after a loss, there’s a lot of frustration. But today, as we speak, I just practiced, and there really is no reason to be frustrated or, like you said, get #*@&$ed off. We’re Friday, the tournament begins in a few days. So today there’s no reason. But of course if we spoke after I lost in Cincinnati, for example, it’s always more complicated,” he added.
It’s interesting to look at this Open Court video of the first career meeting between Auger-Aliassime and first-round opponent Mackenzie McDonald in that context.
(If memory serves, Open Court took a red-eye from Indian Wells and arrived on the site in Key Biscayne for the dramatic third set in this first round of the 2018 Miami Open qualifying. And it was SMOKIN’ hot and humid).
You can see a few things: the first is how much energy Auger-Aliassime wasted on emotions when things weren’t going his way. And how absolutely crushed he was after the loss. The other noticeable thing is the evolution – perhaps even devolution is a better word – in his game since those very early days.
Working on the serve and return
The focus right now, Auger-Aliassime said, is getting the rhythm back on his serve, which obviously is the shot from which all his tennis success flows. And on the return.
Controlling the controllables, basically.
“It’s going in the right direction,” he said. “I’m happy that I’ve been able, I believe, to make the necessary adjustments ahead of this tournament,” he said.
The early loss in Cincinnati gave Auger-Aliassime time to train, to try to arrive in New York in the best shape possible. It’s a lot easier if you come into the next tournament with a bunch of wins under your belt, he said; you don’t think too much. But after Cincinnati (and Toronto), he says he made a conscious effort to say to himself, “Okay, this is the reality. But I can still make sure I train well, and stay positive no matter what.”
The Canadian doesn’t deny that it’s perhaps the toughest period of his young career so far, on the tennis side. And physically as well.
“We use our body as a work tool. So when you get up in the morning, you know what you need to do, or what you need to produce on the court. But if the body doesn’t feel good, it’s complicated. That part weighed a little heavily – all those months this year when I wasn’t in ideal shape,” he said. “This past month, it’s been about getting back to competition and trying to find a good level again. I was hoping it would go a little quicker, but that hasn’t been the case.”
And then, the pianist in Auger-Aliassime used a musical term to describe the tempo of his tennis seasons.
“Since I was a teenager, on the tennis side, the seasons have always been like a crescendo. And that’s what it is right now,” he said. “It’s a big challenge, but once again I will aim to meet it.”
When you’re on a roll …
Auger-Aliassime said it was hard to verbalize. But at the end of last year, when he found himself in tight situations during matches, he had the serenity and belief that he’d be able able to get out of trouble.
“As an example, if I’m behind 0-30 or even 0-40 sometimes on serve, sometimes you say to yourself, ‘Okay, this game’s over.’ But there are moments during the year where I tell myself, ‘No, everything’s fine, I’m going to serve well. I’m going to find a way,’ ” Auger-Aliassime said.
“Of course, right now, when there’s a situation that’s a little complicated, I might feel a little less serene, a little less confident that I’m going to find a solution. It’s like that for all players, I think,” he added. “There are moments where you feel that even facing match point, or break point, you’ll be fine, and there are other moments where every occasion is complicated to get out of.”
A marathon, not a sprint
Auger-Aliassime said that when he was fully healthy, he managed to play enough matches, enough tournaments to find the right sensations and stay on an upward trajectory every year. “You can see by my ranking that every year, I always did a little better than the year before,” he said.
So at the end of 2022 he told himself. “Everything’s in place. I’m playing well. I’m the player I am, on the way to becoming the player I want to be.”
The knee issues sort of stalled that progress – and for a player who was able to make that rise without missing much time due to injury, no doubt a bit of a shock to the system.
“But we move on. There’s a lot of tennis to play. I hope that I’ll be able to continue to play for many years; I hope I have at least 10 years left. So it really is a marathon (and not a sprint),” he said.
First up is Mackenzie McDonald
There might have been worse outcomes, relatively speaking. But Auger-Aliassime drew the steady, speedy McDonald in the first round, which will be played later Monday.
The 28-year-old reached a career high of No. 39 last week, breaking into the top 40 for the first time after so much time lost to injury.
Auger-Aliassime has played him twice; he defeated him 7-6, 6-1 in the second round of the Halle tournament on grass a year ago.
And back in 2018, in the first round of qualifying in Miami, he lost an absolute heartbreaker in the first round – 8-6 in the third-set tiebreak. He’s probably better off forgetting that one, even though he was just 17 at the time.
“He’s a player who’s not far from being seeded in this tournament. I’ve played him before, but I’ve seen him play a little in the tournaments this summer, because we’ve played the same ones. He’s a player who can beat very good players, who has a lot of quality. It’s a good test,” Auger-Aliassime said of McDonald. “In the end, I know that if I can get through a match like that, it’ll give me confidence going forward. That’s kind of the way I’m approaching it.”
Auger-Aliassime will play McDonald fourth on Court 5 Monday, which means it’ll basically be a night match and likely will be on at the same time as Milos Raonic vs Stefanos Tsitsipas on Louis Armstrong.