Montreal's Félix Auger-Aliassime, just 14, making noise on the pro tennis circuit

Eh Game
Montreal's Félix Auger-Aliassime, just 14, making noise on the pro tennis circuit
Montreal's Félix Auger-Aliassime, just 14, making noise on the pro tennis circuit

GRANBY – Let the hype begin. Or better yet, do the kid a favour and keep it on the down low for now.

But there's no doubt Montreal teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime is creating quite a stir, and his performance so far at the $100,000 Granby Banque Nationale Challenger has only added to it.

And he doesn't turn 15 for another few weeks - in fact, he shares his Aug. 8 birthday with one of idols, 19-years-older Roger Federer. 

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Auger-Aliassime already was in the history books. When he made his pro debut back in March at a $50,000 Challenger not too far away from here in Drummondville, and won three qualifying matches to reach the main draw, he became the youngest player ever to do that.

 

When he appeared in the ATP Tour rankings (he's currently at No. 1237), he became the youngest player to earn an ATP Tour ranking. He couldn't play in the main draw; after an abdominal issue surfaced during his qualifying run, it was decided that he'd be better off not pushing it.

Four months later, he got another opportunity against the pros. Tuesday night, after routinely defeating fellow qualifier Andrew Whittington of Australia 6-3, 6-2, he became the youngest player to win a main-draw match on the Challenger Tour.

Here are some highlights from the first set, and the second set

(Click here to see the match in its entirety).

Whittington, 21, is ranked No. 493 in singles but a top-100 doubles player, was a legitimately good junior who reached No. 6 in the world. He probably thought he was a pretty young guy – until he looked across the net and saw a kid. But he was at a complete loss as to how to attack Auger-Aliassime. Whittington tried to use his entire arsenal, hitting drop shots and taking the net when he could. But he couldn't find a whole in the 14-year-old's game.

The Aussie could find no solutions against his 14-year-old opponent Tuesday night in Granby. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
The Aussie could find no solutions against his 14-year-old opponent Tuesday night in Granby. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

His increasing frustration was a panacea to Auger-Aliassime's admitted nerves – nerves that absolutely didn't show much on the outside. The crowd in Granby embraced him immediately, and whole-heartedly. His demeanour was professional, but his flash and enthousiasm were infectious.

He faces Darian King of Barbados, a 23-year-old veteran of the Challenger and Futures circuit who is ranked No. 205, in the second round on Thursday.

Last fall, when he officially joined Tennis Canada's national training centre class of 2014-15, he looked like the little kid he was. The ensuing months have brought a major growth spurt and he's already about 6-foot-1.

His bio on the ATP Tour website already looks woefully retro.

5-foot-10 was MONTHS ago for the fast-growing Auger-Aliassime. (ATPTour.com)
5-foot-10 was MONTHS ago for the fast-growing Auger-Aliassime. (ATPTour.com)

"It seems like I can’t stop growing," Auger-Aliassime told Eh Game, laughing. "I’ve been lucky so far, it hasn’t had much impact on my game, my movement. Not too many injuries, Maybe in the abdominals a little bit at first, maybe it influenced that; but in the knees, ankle, no issues."

There are a lot of kids his age and a bit older who hit the ball hard and run with the insouciance of youth. You see some of the 17- and 18-year-olds competing at events like junior Wimbledon – gargantuan kids, most of them. But not many can compete with grown men. It takes more than that, and in these early days, Auger-Aliassime is showing signs of having a complete package.

In addition to having Roger Federer as an idol, Auger-Aliassime also lists Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gaël Monfils as favourites. Clearly he's been watching them. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
In addition to having Roger Federer as an idol, Auger-Aliassime also lists Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gaël Monfils as favourites. Clearly he's been watching them. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

"Let’s be honest, size matters. You mustn’t condemn the smaller players, because there will always be smaller players, there will always be a Ferrer, one or two players like that. But it’s more than an asset," Tennis Canada high-performance chief Louis Borfiga told Eh Game. "He has developed well physically, that’s for sure."

But there's more.

"First of all, he has a maturity that’s a little above average, I find. A very mature, intelligent young man. And he has a game intelligence that, for a kid who’s about to turn 15, is above-average. He manages to adapt to the opponent’s rhythm very easily. That’s a natural quality that he has. Tactically he plays quite well, which allows him to compete with anyone," Borfiga said. "He had it in him, and then he was taught how to play, the patterns of play.

"He listens.You have to have the capacity to do it, that’s the talent part. But there are some players you can say it 20, 30, 40 times to. He's able to execute what he's told," Borfiga added.

Auger-Aliassime says a lot of it is mental. "Intensity on each point, having a good intention on each ball, and good depth on each ball," he said. "Those are the things that make the difference. And after that, it’s between the ears."

Auger-Aliassime has an older sister, 16-year-old Malika, who is doing well at the Canadian level on the junior scene as well. But nothing like kid brother, who is 27-4 in the juniors so far this season and whose ranking, which was No. 572 at the beginning of the season, is at No. 69. That means he can already at least get into the qualifying at the junior Slam level, impressive for a kid his age.

"He’s really in the early stages, for me, nothing at all has happened yet. The juniors are the priority. And at the same time, we’re not going to rush him, we’re not going to burn him out.  We’ll take our time, and let him mature slowly. We’ll try to hide him," Borfiga said, laughing. "With his parents, we’re managing so far. They’re fantastic. And it's rare that I say that about tennis parents."

Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau, who just returned from the tie in Belgium, got a little more excited. 

"I've never been so dazzled in all my life, watching a young tennis player," he told the Journal de Montréal.

Okay everyone, remain calm. But what an exciting prospect to follow.

As impressive as the tennis was, perhaps the most impressive thing about Auger-Aliassime Tuesday night came after the match, when he answered questions from a surprisingly large group of rumpled Quebec media types.

He answered naturally, with great poise. And after it was over, he shook each man's hand individually. 

Auger-Aliassime answered all the questions – then proceeded to a round of handshakes. Fantastic parents, indeed! (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
Auger-Aliassime answered all the questions – then proceeded to a round of handshakes. Fantastic parents, indeed! (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

Yes, he's 14.

 

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