ATP Cologne 2: Auger-Aliassime or the praise of perseverance

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On the circuit, it is unanimous. All his colleagues agree in saying it: Félix Auger-Aliassime has a bright future ahead of him. An assertion that the precocity of the young man at the highest level tends to reinforce. Youngest player to win a game on the Challenger circuit (in 2015 at 14 and a half), youngest semi-finalist in the history of the Miami tournament last year (at 18 years and 7 months), he is also became the youngest professional since Rafael Nadal in 2005 to have 5 finals to his credit on the ATP circuit last February in Marseille. But these promising figures struggled to console him on Sunday in Cologne when he again failed to open his record.

The classy words of his tormentor of the day probably did not help the Canadian swallow a very bitter pill either. “I know that might not mean much here now to you, but I’m sure you’re not just going to win one title in your career, but several and more important than this“, had estimated Alexander Zverev during the ceremony of handing-over of the trophies. Objectively moreover, there is no reason for Auger-Aliassime to be embarrassed by the result of this 6th final: his adversary was favorite, head of series number 1 of the tournament, and has, after all, held its rank.

I don’t play well in the final, it’s just hard to accept

But that’s not what worries the current 22nd player in the world. The frustration arises rather from the tennis produced during this dry defeat (6-3, 6-3) in barely 1h20. “I am not playing well in the final. I am unable to develop my tennis. It’s just hard to accept. So I don’t have much more to say that I’m at my level today (Sunday) “, he confided in all sincerity. Because the statistics are relentless: in 6 tries, not only has the Canadian never triumphed, but above all he has not won a single set.

And the status of its rivals is not enough to explain it. If these last three dry losses were all conceded against players then members of the Top 10 – Zverev, Stéfanos Tsitsipas in Marseille and Gaël Monfils in Rotterdam -, the first three had been against opponents more “accessible” although a little more experienced: Laslo Djere in Rio, Benoît Paire in Lyon and Matteo Berrettini in Stuttgart. Hence the nagging idea that a sort of mental blockage was built in him. “Of course the nervousness played a role. I’ll try to work and find a way to overcome it“, he still considered.

Félix Auger-Aliassime in Cologne in 2020

Credit: Getty Images

Auger-Aliassime is not the first to experience such a mishap. And he has moreover the margin before considering himself cursed as could be for example a Julien Benneteau (10 failures in the final and no title) in a career also strewn with brilliant strokes. At just twenty spring, it would be premature to panic for a player already so consistent at the top level and who has been sailing around the Top 20 for a year and a half. But does the guy suffer from the expectations he has raised for years?

Pressure that is difficult to manage, of course, but a sign of its ambition

Born on August 8 like his idol Roger Federer, would he suffer from any very premature comparisons to the image of Richard Gasquet a few years ago in France? “Here (in Canada, Editor’s note), it has never been considered a phenomenon. We tried to keep him from unnecessary pressure when people started to take an interest in him. Now we let him make his own choices. To be a great champion, you have to face whatever comes“, observed Guillaume Marx, one of his two French coaches with Frédéric Fontang, last year in The Parisian.

If Auger-Aliassime is under any pressure whatsoever, it is therefore first of all that he puts himself. Because the boy is ambitious and already very well structured: he knows where he wants to go and how to do it. Physically, he has grown well in recent months. New member of the ATP Players Council and involved in a project to support education in Togo, he also shows a bluffing maturity off the courts.

Growing up in contact with the best

It is only mentally that his youth is still playing tricks on him, when he suddenly has double faults for example when he seemed to have total control of his match. Faced with Dominic Thiem in the round of 16 of the US Open, this side still too tender in the head had also emerged after the loss of the first set in the tie-break. But as the Canadian himself says, to progress, you have to get tough. And to toughen it up, the repetition of these confrontations with the best players in the world plays a fundamental role.

Casually, at Flushing Meadows in August, he had crossed a new milestone by reaching the second week of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in his career. Like the motto tattooed on Stan Wawrinka’s arm, the important thing is not to fail, but to use failure to fail better (and why not succeed) in the future. So after his 6th crash, Auger-Aliassime is back in the saddle again this week again in Cologne, where Belarusian Egor Gerasimov awaits him in the second round. With why not the secret desire to find Zverev in the final on Sunday, and to try his luck for the 7th time.

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