Felix On Budding Canadian Rivalries: 'We're Not At War Here'
#NextGenATP Canadian star Felix Auger-Aliassime arrived on site for his first practice at this year’s Coupe Rogers on Friday evening. The 18-year-old did not expect any fans to be there with qualifying yet to begin.
“It was full, and everybody was happy to come watch me practise. That’s a different feeling. I’d be lying if I said that I’m going on the court and it just feels like any other tournament,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It feels special. Hopefully I can use that energy and that support in a good way.”
This will be the World No. 22’s first time competing at the Canadian ATP Masters 1000 tournament when it’s been held in his birthplace: Montreal. Auger-Aliassime debuted in the main draw last year in Toronto.
But Felix is not the same player he was then. At 17, he was a wild card ranked World No. 133. Auger-Aliassime lost in a final-set tie-break in the second round against current Top 10 star Daniil Medvedev.
This year, Auger-Aliassime could potentially become the Canadian No. 1 with a strong performance at his home Masters 1000 tournament. Prior to this season, he owned just six tour-level wins. He has 29 already in 2019, including trips to his first three ATP Tour finals and the semi-finals of the Miami Open presented by Itau. Auger-Aliassime was already a hot commodity in Toronto last year, and that’s only increased over the past 52 weeks.
“For sure the trap is that there’s a lot of attention and I’m going to put maybe more pressure on myself,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I think you have to put that aside and like every other tournament, try and focus as much as I can on what I have to do prior to my first round and then the rest of the week.”
There will always be an electric crowd in Canada whenever Auger-Aliassime competes on home soil. But that will be the case even moreso when he faces countryman Vasek Pospisil, a former Montreal semi-finalist, in the first round. Auger-Aliassime leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 2-0, including a victory at Wimbledon this year.
“I just laughed. I saw it coming. I was talking with my physio earlier that day and I was like, ‘I think something’s going to happen. I’m going to play Denis or Vasek.’ I felt like something was going to happen and it did,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Honestly, no big reaction. That’s just how it is. We’re good friends, we get along well, but once we step on court we’re going to compete at our best like we did at Wimbledon and we’ll see who the winner is. But I think we’re good competitors and we’re good people, so we’re able to put our friendship aside for the time of the match and just compete at our best.”
Another #NextGenATP Canadian who will be under the spotlight is Denis Shapovalov, who went on a magical run in Montreal two years ago, defeating Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal en route to his first Masters 1000 semi-final. A reporter asked Auger-Aliassime if the nature of this event will alter the pair’s friendship at all this week, and the teen said there was no chance of that happening.
“I’m going to ignore him. No, come on, it’s not like that. We’re not at war here. It’s cool. We talk normally. Even with Vasek, I texted him yesterday. When we saw the draw, we just laughed, like how crazy was that? But once we step on court, then we forget friendship, we just play our match,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But my friendship with Denis hasn’t changed and it’s not going to change because of this week, because of any week. I think that’s two completely different things. There’s the friendship outside the court and there’s the competition. That’s for sure not going to change anything.”
Auger-Aliassime is adamant that he does not want to look too far ahead. But if he defeats Pospisil, he could potentially face former World No. 3 and Montreal finalist Milos Raonic, who faces Lucas Pouille, in the second round.
“For sure that’s crazy. If Vasek wins, it’s going to be the same thing. He’s going to play another Canadian in the second round,” Auger-Aliassime said. “That’s like Indian Wells last year. It’s pretty crazy that it has to happen here in Montreal.”
After Auger-Aliassime ousted Pospisil at last year’s BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, he fell in straight sets against Raonic. But the veteran has seen Felix develop in the past year, watching his game develop as his countryman’s ATP Ranking has ballooned as high as No. 21.
“I think it’s just consistency. Last year when we practised, he’d always be able to play at a really high level and then there’d be a game each set… where he’d just sort of spray a few balls and lose the handles of it a little bit for a moment. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s changed, he doesn’t really have those little spurts anymore,” Raonic said. “Obviously physically, he’s incredibly developed for a guy of his age. I think he’s really mature in that way and the way he approaches his tennis. But I think it’s just those spurts, that he minimised them. And when they do happen, I think they happen for much shorter periods of time.
“I think when you play the way he does, aggressively, he does a lot of things well, you just keep constantly putting pressure on your opponent and that creates some openings for himself.”