After a dream October, Felix Auger-Aliassime ready for his next career milestone

For the first time since mid-October, Félix Auger-Aliassime has a Sunday off - or almost.

While his semifinal defeat to Denmark's Holger Rune meant he wasn't facing off with Novak Djokovic in the final of the Paris Masters, the Montreal native spoke with reporters to revisit a fall winning streak that has propelled his young career to its highest level thus far.

For more than three weeks beginning in mid-October, from Italy, Belgium and Switzerland, the 22-year-old Auger-Aliassime was untouchable.

His 16-match winning streak included three ATP Tour titles before Saturday's loss in Paris. He beat Rune last Sunday in the Swiss Indoors final for his third consecutive crown.

Auger-Aliassime was ranked 13th when the streak began with a win over Germany's Oscar Otte in Florence on Oct. 13th. On Monday, he'll be ranked sixth.

On Sunday, it was clear that he's aiming even higher.

"In any profession, it's a nice number to say you're sixth in the world at what you do," he said in a video conference call from Paris. "For me it's very nice, it's another nice progression."

"Clearly I aspire and hope to be No. 1 in the world one day, but I have to go through all the stages, all the positions."

Auger-Aliassime said he has one more chance left this year to progress toward that goal.

That opportunity will come at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy beginning Nov. 13, which Auger-Aliassime will contest for the first time in his career.

Qualifying for the elite event is a nice way to cap the Canadian player's stellar year.

"I met all the goals I had set for myself this year, and more," he said. "Each year since I was a teenager, I've always managed to improve every year. This is the first time, really, that I can say I succeeded in my mission, and even better."

Auger-Aliassime also reflected on past challenges, including a series of heartbreaking losses that once caused him to question himself. Eight times he reached the finals of tournaments, only to fail to win a single set.

His breakthrough came when he won his first tournament in Rotterdam in February. The win, he said Sunday, was "a relief," and also showed he and his team what they needed to do to win.

The losses, while hard to accept, have been part of the journey to where he is now, he said.

"The fact that I lost some (finals) means that I really don't take any for granted," he said. "All the finals I played recently, I played them like they were the most important match of my career, or with a huge motivation, a huge concentration."

That win in Rotterdam, followed by his three recent victories in Florence, Antwerp and Basel, have given him the confidence to believe he's capable of winning the ATP Finals.

"All the players who are participating, they're players I've played, and most of them I've previously won against," he said.

Despite the stiff competition, he said there's no reason not to go in with a winning mentality.

"Clearly, it's one the hardest tournaments to win because you have to beat the best players in the world," he said. "But I think I have what it takes to aspire to it."

Former tennis great John McEnroe, now a TV analyst, recently said he could see Auger-Aliassime reaching the No. 1 spot one day - something the Canadian said he's starting to believe himself.

"I think I'm more and more convinced - and those around me too - that I have what it takes to get there," he said.

But to get there, he'll have to excel in every aspect of his game and consistently produce results, which he acknowledged won't be easy.

"Without cutting corners, without putting too much pressure on myself, I think I have what it takes to be world No. 1, eventually, in my career," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2022.

Michel Lamarche, The Canadian Press