What's next for teenage tennis phenom Félix Auger-Aliassime?

Eh Game
What's next for teenage tennis phenom Félix Auger-Aliassime?
What's next for teenage tennis phenom Félix Auger-Aliassime?

MONTREAL – Félix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal, now all of 15 years and one week old, did not get a wild card into last week's Rogers Cup. Not into the qualifying, not into the main draw.

There was a lot of chatter about that, as if impressively winning some matches at a tournament last month should automatically lead Tennis Canada to have the promising young player skip a few steps and graduate right to the big leagues.

Wisely, they chose not to. When you have a kid with this much potential, at his age, what's the rush?

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There isn't much to be gained by having him play a big-time player – and there were plenty of those even in the qualifying in Montreal – and be taught a lesson under the major glare of the spotlight.

The Rogers Cup in Montreal doesn't need the extra media attention his major-league debut would bring. And if it did, and they used a kid that age for that purpose, what kind of people would that make them?

In the end, what would one match do? He doesn't need to face a highly-ranked player at this point to "gauge his level". It doesn't matter. And, if he happened to win, how much MORE hype would be piled on the kid? As Tennis Canada director of high-performance Louise Borfiga told Eh Game, "we're trying to hide him." Obviously that's impossible, but there's no reason to overexpose him, either.

That said, Auger-Aliassime had plenty of attention and enjoyed a lot of brand-new experiences during his week at the tournament.

On the Thursday before the event, he went to Olympic Stadium to help launch the kids' Rogers Cup mini-tennis event and got to meet one of his idols for the first time. It was astonishing to see that Auger-Aliassime, still 14, was nearly as tall as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

He hit some balls with the kids. He had to make what was probably the biggest speech of his life. And he handled it beautifully.

The kid, along with his parents and the people at Tennis Canada who are guiding his career, clearly are keeping his goals in line. He said at the event that he hoped, in two years' time, to receive a wild card into the Rogers Cup ... for the qualifying, not the main draw.

Auger-Aliassime also said that his goal was to become the world's No. 1 junior before his junior career is done. That certainly seems achievable.

During the week, Auger-Aliassime got down to work, serving as a practice partner for players like Leonardo Mayer of Argentina.

Then, before top Canadian Milos Raonic's second-round match against big-serving Ivo Karlovic, Auger-Aliassime was his warmup partner.

Let the record show that Raonic lost that match; hopefully he's not superstitious.

Beyond that, Auger-Aliassime hung out with his fellow national training centre players. And, of course, he stopped in at the entertaining practice between bad boy Nick Kyrgios and American Jack Sock, which was hands-down the most fun practice of the week.

The 15-year-old phenom stopped by the practice starring Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock at the Rogers Cup last week, along with his fellow players from the NTC. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)
The 15-year-old phenom stopped by the practice starring Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock at the Rogers Cup last week, along with his fellow players from the NTC. (Stephanie Myles/opencourt.ca)

We're pretty confident, based on his demeanour so far, that Auger-Aliassime won't be taking any lessons from Kyrgios's subsequent actions in the tournament. But the kids ALL love Kyrgios - on court, he's flashy and fun and adds a lot to the game.

After all those heady moments, it was back to the grind.

Auger-Aliassime is playing the national under-18 championships in Mississauga, Ont., which began last Friday. Not surprisingly, he is in the final Wednesday. On the girls' side, 15-year-old Bianca Andreescu also has reached the final.

The No. 1 seed hasn't drop a set en route to the final; he will meet No. 2 seed Denis Shapovalov (who also hasn't dropped a set). His sister Malika also played; she lost in the second round.

After that, a heavy tournament schedule continues for the next three weeks. Auger-Aliassime is signed up for a Grade 1 junior event in College Park, Maryland, followed by the big international junior event in Repentigny, Quebec that has launched a lot of junior careers and is the big tuneup for the US Open juniors.

Currently ranked No. 70, Auger-Aliassime won't end up having to play the qualifying in New York, which will be his first junior tournament at the Grand Slam level. His ATP ranking, lowly as it might seem in the grand scheme of things, was high enough to earn him a direct-entry spot.

At barely 15, he's still younger than the vast majority of the players he'll be competing against. It certainly seems that he's in the right place, for now.

  

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