Read & Watch: Felix Introduces The Team, Family In Indian Wells
Pork soaked in maple syrup and sprinkled with beets and cranberries was hot on the stove, and one of the most promising #NextGenATP stars on the ATP Tour was hungry.
Rare is the evening when 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime travels to a tour event yet sits around the table, laughs with his family and smells his mom's cooking. But Thursday evening in Indian Wells was one of those special occasions, and his mother, sister, physio and coach had more reasons to smile.
Auger-Aliassime won his opening-round match at the BNP Paribas Open, a straight-sets dismissal against Acapulco semi-finalist Cameron Norrie, the latest good news in a season that keeps producing tempered excitement for the 6'3” right-hander.
Last month, Auger-Aliassime reached his maiden ATP Tour final at the Rio Open presented by Claro (l. to Djere). This week, he's on the verge of cracking the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings (No. 58).
But Auger-Aliassime doesn't have a goal of reaching the Top 10 by the age of 20, or to win five titles by 21. He's focused on the boring – the day-by-day improvement.
“I'm just trying to focus on what I have to do to play good tennis and eventually good things will happen,” Auger-Aliassime told ATPTour.com. “I didn't want to focus too much on results or expectations, Top 50 or Top 30. If I do good things on the court, these things [will come].”
They've been coming for the past 12 months. One year ago in Indian Wells, Auger-Aliassime beat countryman Vasek Pospisil for his first tour-level win. This year, he's 8-5, including a quarter-final showing at the Brasil Open in Sao Paulo last week.
But behind every burgeoning teenager on the ATP Tour is a family that's sacrificed for years to help him pursue his passion. Auger-Aliassime is no different.
“It'd be impossible or very tough for me to do the things that I've been doing without the support of my family. The love that they give me really gives me a lot of strength, a lot of motivation,” said Auger-Aliassime as his mother, sister, physio, Nicolas Perrotte, and one of his two coaches, Frederic Fontang, sat by his side in their rented home.
“My dad [Sam Aliassime] isn't here but he's always really present, because he's been a big support all of my career. They make tough days easier and good days even better, so I'm happy to share all these moments with them. It doesn't happen very often as I'm on the road. I like to share these moments, these weeks with them.”
Auger-Aliassime's mother, Marie Auger, hovered over the stove, watching the pork and trying to make their rented home feel like home. She even brought the maple syrup from Quebec.
Earlier, Malika Auger-Aliassime, Felix's older sister by 18 months, diced green onions, and Felix didn't hide his lack of cooking aspirations. “I don't cook,” he said, laughing.
“When he was alone with his coach, he used to cook,” Marie Auger said.
But free time is a luxury for the globe-trotting teenager, who prefers his new path to dinner. “Now I sit down and enjoy,” Felix said.
Watch: Felix Fights His Way Into First ATP Final
Mom started the evening with arugula mixed with pecans, blueberries and raspberry dressing and a side of toasted bread. The pork and asparagus followed, along egg pasta with green onions and mushrooms.
To drink, for Felix, was his favourite: sparkling water. “If I could drink sparkling water on court, I'd probably do it,” he said.
Evenings at home weren't always so harmonious, the family remembered. “It was tough to finish a tennis match or a ping-pong match,” Felix said.
“Badminton, even cards,” interjected Malika, who, even though Felix has shot past her in height, still claims her title as “big sister”.
“It was always rough endings,” Felix said. “I was cheating or something was happening. There were a lot of sparks as kids, but now it builds up into a great relationship.
“She's helping me a lot with everything. She's really a great sister.”
Malika sat by his side as his team and family sat around the table. It was a quiet night in what's become a busy year for Auger-Aliassime. But the teenager said he still remains who he was before he reached an ATP Tour final and before ATP Masters 1000 wins were greeted with matter-of-factness.
“Obviously these moments help with the family because I might win matches or win tournaments, but at the end of the day, I'm still the kid of my mom and the brother of my sister. I think these moments help me stay grounded, and at the end, I'm really focused on what I have to do every day to be a better player,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“I don't want to be remembered for just one week or just one year I had that was great. I want to be consistent. That's why I go to work every day, lace up the shoes and go to work.”