MELBOURNE, Australia — Felix Auger-Aliassime has been a fan of Denis Shapovalov since he first met him at a national tennis camp in Toronto when both players were under 10 years old.
More than a decade later, the young Canadian stars are set to make Canadian tennis history when they renew their friendly rivalry.
The 21-year-old Shapovalov and 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime will square off in the third round of the Australian Open on Friday. It marks their fourth career match at the top level, but first that doesn't come in the opening round of a tournament.
It's also just the fifth Grand Slam meeting between two Canadian men in the Open Era, and the first to come in the third round or later.
"I think I first met him when I was eight," Auger-Aliassime said after downing Australia's James Duckworth in straight sets on Wednesday. "They took the best players under 12, and we had ... national camps. I think that's the first time I met him in Toronto. He was already playing with an adult racquet, one-handed backhand at nine years old.
"I remember it was pretty impressive the first time I saw him. I'm still impressed by what he does."
The 11th-seeded Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., holds a 2-1 edge on Auger-Aliassime at ATP Tour and Grand Slam events, winning at the U.S. Open in 2018 and '19. The 20th-seeded Auger-Aliassime, from Montreal, recorded his win on clay in Madrid in 2019.
Both players are one step away from the round of 16 after making first-round exits at the season's opening Grand Slam last year.
"For sure excited to play Felix," Shapovalov said after a straight-sets win over Australia's Bernard Tomic on Wednesday.
"But for me it's just like any other match. Just kind of getting ready the same. It's just the next round for me. Obviously sooner or later, you're going to run into Canadians in the draw. Canadians never want to play Canadians, but in the end it happens so often that we kind of just treat it the same way."
Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are joined in the third round by 14th-seeded Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont. Raonic will face world No. 55 Marton Fucsovics of Hungary, with the Canadian holding a 2-0 lifetime edge.
Three Canadian men advancing past the second round of a Slam has only happened once before in the Open era, when Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime and Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil reached the round of 16 at last year's U.S. Open.
Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime's connection first gained significant attention at the 2017 Rogers Cup. Shapovalov spent some of the tournament in Montreal staying in Auger-Aliassime's house during an improbable run to the semifinals, highlighted by a win over Rafael Nadal.
"We're teammates. Whenever we're together, we have a good time," Auger-Aliassime said.
"When we share experiences like Davis Cup or ATP Cup last year, we always want the best for the team. Of course, now playing against each other, we've played also before in Grand Slams, it's a big opportunity for both of us. It's an important match. We're going to just compete as hard as we can."
Auger-Aliassime feels the match is good for the sport in Canada.
"It's not the first time, it's not the last time we're going to play," he said.
Auger-Aliassime and partner Hubert Hurkacz of Poland didn't last long in doubles, dropping their first-round match to Ken Skupksi and Neil Skupski 6-3, 6-2 Thursday.
Two other tandems involving Canadians advanced to the second round, though.
Shapovalov and Pospisil topped Slovakia's Andrej Martin and Austria's Tristan-Samuel Weissborn 6-3, 7-6(7).
And Toronto's Sharon Fichman and partner Giuliana Olmos of Mexico upset the fifth-seeded duo of Hao-Ching Chan and Latisha Chan of Tawain, 1-6, 7-6(7), 6-2.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021.
The Canadian Press