ATP rank: n. 20
UTR rank: n. 42
What he has done since last summer: he has reached the last round of ATP 250 Marseille and Rotterdam
In November 2017 I was in Bradenton, Florida, to interview Nick Bollettieri when a sound technician noticed a clang that drowned the hoarse and distinctive voice of the legendary coach.
It looked like a construction project, as if someone were shooting with a nail gun on the external fields of the IMG Academy. Rather, it was Felix Auger-Aliassime who punched his straight crosscourt.
In tennis, you have the eye test – which Auger-Aliassime goes through with its textbook production and elite athletics – but you also have the ear test. It is also important, because the cleanliness and power of each shot can be judged by the sound the ball makes when it explodes from the strings. Few players, and certainly none 21, can break the law like Auger-Aliassime.
The Canadian is so gifted that he actually helped end a player’s career without even knowing it. Former Bethanie Mattek-Sands coach and ex-American Bulldog of Georgia, Austin Smith, played a 16-year-old Auger-Aliassime in an ITF futures tournament in 2016. Here’s what happened:
“I was playing some of the best tennis of my life and Felix beat me 6-2, 6-1,” said Smith. “I had just won a full-time title in Israel and felt good, but there was nothing I could do against him. He had a much more complete game with six years less experience. After that game I started wondering if I was doing the right thing trying to play the professional tour. It took away all my trust. But seeing him ranked 20th in the world now makes me feel a little better about myself. “
Although Auger-Aliassime has not yet captured his first ATP title, he has already reached five finals. It’s only a matter of time before I start raising trophies on Sunday regularly. Perhaps no one in this group of young players has a higher roof than the 20-year-old.
“Nobody knew who he was three years ago and now suddenly it looks like the next best potential,” said Andy Roddick. “I wish he had lived a thousand miles south.”
The devastating first-hand right and cat-like speed are its two biggest strengths. He can extend the points with his movement, but he can also end the point with a given right.
His racket speed allows him to hit shots that most people fail. Here, Auger-Aliassime strikes a clear winner with one of the most effective throws in the game: the backhand of Feliciano Lopez (on the grass, no less). Bringing this ball up and down over the top of the net from a low slip slice is crazy.
Here, Auger-Aliassime strikes a devastating backhand from his rear foot, followed by a swinging scream screaming close to the baseline. This type of raw energy is practically indefensible.
Here, Stefanos Tsitsipas crushes a direct crosscourt, but the speed of Auger-Aliassime and the compact production of the blow allow him to manage it easily. It is yet another example of why going straight to law with the Canadian is a bad idea.
So clearly you can’t play the FAA for its right, it’s just too good. Does this mean you have to put pressure on his right backhand? Mistaken. One of the best shots of the FAA is its running backhand pass.
When approaching the reverse of Auger-Aliassime, the court often seems wide open, because it is. But its bizarre explosiveness quickly reduces the court. This is an excellent approach by John Isner; it’s just a better shot that passes.
Here is perhaps the best example of the FAA’s range and explosiveness. A strong push from the right leg and it is able to cover almost half the pitch. The athleticism and control of the body needed to hit this shot are out of range.
In addition to his blistered right and absurd judicial coverage, he simply has a talent.
Let’s not think too much about this. Some players can simply hit shots that 99 percent of tennis players fail. FAA is one of those players.
It is one thing to take a racket on this almost perfect shot by Malek Jaziri. Another thing is to get there with perfect balance and finesse this bad crosscourt winner.
As noted earlier, the 20-year-old is 0-5 in the ATP finals. In order for Auger-Aliassime to reach its peak, it will have to perform better in bigger games. Time is on his side, but his no-win streak record could quickly become a much bigger plot if he can’t capitalize on it soon. With such reduced margins in professional tennis, trust is everything. Self-esteem is the only thing that separates very good players from big players.
Auger-Aliassime’s most notable weakness is his service of ups and downs. In 2019 he finished with the fourth double double mistake on tour, and it’s not like he’s going for a huge second serve. If he is about to break through on the world’s largest stages, he will have to find greater consistency in his service. If he needs a high percentage of first portions, he will get a lot of first ball fronts, which is usually a death sentence for his opponent.
Comparable: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
FAA’s exceptional skill set makes it difficult to think of a confrontation between players, but young Jo-Wilfried Tsonga possessed equal athleticism and a deadly right. However, the FAA is much more refined than Tsonga was at his age.
Who will stay in this year’s 21 and Under Club and which new players will join them?
Find out all week on TENNIS.com and Baseline.
Monday 27 July: Sofia Kenin | Monday 27 July: Elena Rybakina | Monday 27 July: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday 28 July: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday 28 July: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday 29 July: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday 29 July: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday 30 July: Coco Gauff | Thursday 30 July: Caty McNally | Thursday 30 July: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday 31st July: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday 31 July: Carlos Alcaraz