Felix On Nadal’s Rome Return: ‘He’s The Big Favourite Here’
#NextGenATP star Felix Auger-Aliassime is happy to be in the Rome for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. The Canadian is also well aware that plenty of eyes will be on nine-time champion Rafael Nadal, who is competing for the first time since the ATP Tour’s August resumption.
“I think it’s great and especially he’s the big favourite here. We’ll see how he feels in his first match back since the break,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But for sure having those top guys still in the game is obviously great for the sport.
“At the same time we’re going to have a new Grand Slam champion, maybe who is also going to bring interest to younger players, different players. It’s a good mix and it’s a good time for tennis to come back both with these upcoming players and these great champions still in those draws.”
Auger-Aliassime acquitted himself well in his first events back in New York, winning a match at the Western & Southern Open and then going on a career-best Grand Slam run at the US Open, where he reached the fourth round.
“It felt great. I got my first win in Cincinnati first round. That winning feeling again that you didn’t get for six months, you realise that as a tennis player that’s what you were missing,” Auger-Aliassime said. “We’re competitors. I sure am. Winning a match, that’s what I think you miss the most.”
The 20-year-old didn’t necessarily change how he trained during the more than five months the ATP Tour was suspended. But Auger-Aliassime says he worked hard consistently, with his results in New York showing those efforts.
“I felt like that was a deserved result in New York. I wish I would have went further, but I think there was a good lesson from that second week and there were some good wins, some very good tennis from my part,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I’m proud of the work I did and it looks good for the future also.”
Now the five-time ATP Tour finalist will try to quickly transition from the Flushing Meadows hard courts to clay. Auger-Aliassime has not competed on this surface since reaching the Lyon final last May. The 16th seed will play in-form Serbian Filip Krajinovic in the first round. The first seed he could face is World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
“It’s a challenge, especially for my part. I haven’t played on clay for more than a year now. Obviously having the clay season pushed back,” Auger-Aliassime said. “We’re not going to get many tournaments in [on clay], so you’ve got to try and be sharp from the start. It’s already a big tournament here in Rome with big players lined up. I’ve been doing the most trying to adapt to the best that I can. But we’ll see how it goes. For sure you have to be ready to adapt and fight through your wins.”
Auger-Aliassime will open play on Court Centrale at 11 a.m. against Krajinovic, who beat the Canadian at 2018 Rotterdam 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.
Former Rome semi-finalists Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori will also be in action, with Cilic facing Alexander Bublik and Nishikori challenging Albert Ramos-Vinolas. Italians will be keen to watch reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner challenge Frenchman Benoit Paire not before 7 p.m. on Pietrangeli.