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MONTREAL — Stepping onto Tokyo’s Ariake Tennis Park will be a childhood dream come true for Félix Auger-Aliassime.
The star tennis player, who turns 21 next month, says playing in the Olympics is something he's thought about ever since he watched his first Games in 2008.
"I told myself it would be incredible to walk one day in the opening ceremony among that handful of Canadian athletes that go to the Olympic Games," he told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.
"It's really a childhood dream and to come true, it's awesome."
"Everything comes step by step, nothing happens overnight, but you see it coming," he added.
"I will experience great emotions, as a tennis player but also as a person by going to the Olympics."
The Montreal-based tennis player will compete in the singles competition and will team up with Vasek Pospisil in the men's doubles.
And despite the ideals expressed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, Auger-Aliassime wants to do more than just take part.
"I hope to go all the way," he said. "To win a medal would be my greatest pride."
Auger-Aliassime enters the Games coming off a run to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, his career-best result at a Grand Slam.
He says he wants to win in Tokyo, even if his Olympic result won't impact his professional ranking or his wider tennis career.
"Bringing back a medal is a great pride, but doesn't make you climb the world rankings," he said. "That's why winning a Grand Slam is still the most important for me.
"On the other hand, when you win the Olympic Games, you mark history, that's how it meets the 'value' of a Grand Slam. But it's very personal. We see Andy Murray, who won the last two Olympic tournaments, I find it too bad that we don't talk more about this grand achievement."
Even though he wants to give Canada — and himself — the best chance for a medal, he doesn't think he will participate in a third draw by playing mixed doubles.
"By multiplying competitions, it would be complicated. I could find myself playing three matches in a day, which would be a bit too much," he said.
The Tokyo games will be very different from previous Olympics, with no fans allowed at venues while Tokyo is under a state of emergency due to rising COVID-19 cases. Fellow Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Bianca Andreescu decided not to go for safety concerns.
Auger-Aliassime has no regrets, even if he won't get the full Olympic experience.
"It's true that these games will be completely different and it's too bad. It's also the first time I'm going to Tokyo and I won't see anything besides my room and the competition site," he said. "Now, the next games are in three years: it will come up quickly and I know I'll probably be a better player, more mature.
"It's nothing but positive for me: it gives me the chance to play at the Olympics, to see what I can do. I'm already in a position where I've beaten the best players on the tour, and you never know what can happen in a competition."
Auger-Aliassime said he was looking forward to "real opening and closing ceremonies" in the next games.
What he regrets the most is the fact that he'll have limited contact with other athletes.
"I would have liked to go watch basketball," he said.
"I've never gone to watch a professional basketball match, either in the NBA or Europe. Obviously, the American team players and the other international stars, I would have liked to meet them."
He said he also loves athletics.
"I would have liked to meet Andre De Grasse, just as I'd have liked to encourage Canadians in other disciplines, meet these athletes I don't know."
If Auger-Aliassime's dreams come true, he could be playing until Aug. 1.
Olympic tennis begins July 24 at Ariake Tennis Park.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2021.
Frédéric Daigle, The Canadian Press