FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Félix Auger-Aliassime did his best to be optimistic when he talked about this US Open, a few days before his first-round match against the extremely solid Mackenzie McDonald Monday night.
There were a lot of “if”s, though, as in “If I can get the win, it would be great for my confidence.”
But although there were patches of good play, rays of hope in the 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 defeat that sends him packing from New York on the first day of the tournament, for the third straight Grand Slam and for the fifth time in his last six tournaments, the reality is that it’s a tough, tough time in his still-young career.
“Big disappointment. If you’d told me at one set all that it would end that way, I wouldn’t have expected it,” he said. “If you look at the first two sets today, I’m moving well. So already, physically, I feel a lot better than I did a few months ago. In certain moments, I found good sensations on serve. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s going in the right direction, I think.”
Still, the moments where the Canadian let it get away weren’t hard to pinpoint. He double-faulted – one of 11 on the day among his official 52 unforced errors – to hand the first-set tiebreak to his opponent. And early in the second, he had love-40 on McDonald’s serve to break him, but couldn’t convert.
Auger-Aliassime ended up winning that set in the end. But it wasn’t the only love-40 situation he failed to convert in the match. Overall, he was 1-for-13 on those opportunities.
He ran a lot more than his opponent did – which is a telling statistic because Auger-Aliassime’s game is to dictate and make his opponent scramble while the fleet, consistent McDonald is more often than not the one who does more running in a match.
“I was surprised at the way he came back in the third set. Physically, I was getting on top of him. But he was much more aggressive, and he was the one making me move. And he had a lot of success,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Sure, if I’d made my first serve all the time, or service winners… but as soon as he had a chance at a second serve, he put the pressure on with an aggressive return.
“Right now I feel like every opportunity I have, I don’t manage to make it while before, it was less of a problem. I’m losing a lot of close matches – 6-4, tiebreaks,” he added. “But I’m not going to sit there and say everything’s going horribly, or that it’s the end of the world. There are good things. But with confidence, capitalizing on opportunities – because that’s tennis today. There are opportunities to take, and you have to make more of them than you miss.”
No Davis Cup
A year ago, Auger-Aliassime left Davis Cup open, pending how much of a run he could make here in New York. In the end, after losing to Jack Draper in the second round, he decided to make the trip to join his good friends Alexis Galarneau and Gabriel Diallo. And in the end, they won it all.
This year, that won’t happen.
“It’s tough because on one hand, it’s a competition I adore. I’ve always had great moments. And I was just thinking earlier that tennis is an individual sport and when you win a tournament, you enjoy it with your coach, your physio. But it’s great to win with teammates, with guys my own age. It’s an incredible feeling. So it’s sad that I can’t play,” he said. But at the same time, I have to think about my body, my career in the long term. And unfortunately, I can’t play everything, can’t commit to everything between Davis Cup, Laver Cup, the ATP tournaments. At a certain point I have to make choices.”
Auger-Aliassime said playing Laver Cup did serve him well a year ago. After that, he went on a run through Davis Cup, all the indoor fall tournaments where he dominated, and the Davis Cup finals.
“But I try to use every opportunity I have, whether it’s when I’m on the practice court, a practice match, competition – whether it’s official or a exhibition/team competition – to do things that have me heading in the right direction, to work on things,” he said. “So yes, it might be useful. But we’ll see. At any rate, it’s a great competition. I’m going to try to have some fun.”