Hello tennis fans and welcome to “Inside the Lines,” a column I’ll be writing for the National Bank Open presented by Rogers each week that features news and story lines from the world of men’s tennis.
How things can change for a tennis player over the course of a year!
It was twelve months ago that Félix Auger-Aliassime was playing the ABN Amro ATP 500 event in Rotterdam and still seeking his first career title. At only 21 years old, the Canadian was already inside the top ten in the rankings but there was a very dubious distinction hanging over his head.
Auger-Aliassime had made eight ATP Tour finals, but had an 0-8 record in those championship matches.
Many ATP players dream of just making it to the finals of a professional event, let alone eight of them. Yet for Auger-Aliassime, with so much talent and promise surrounding his first few years on the tour, this was definitely becoming somewhat of a distraction and fans of his wondered when he would be able to get over the mental hurdle that accompanied those big pressure moments.
Auger-Aliassime flashed his immense potential in 2019 by making three ATP finals at the age of 18. At the time it didn’t seem to matter much that he failed to win the title, but as those finalist appearances added up and reached eight such results by Stuttgart on grass in 2021, there were definitely some raised eyebrows. What was preventing him from winning in a championship match?
In the tournament last year, everything came together for Auger-Aliassime, who would defeat some big-time opponents including Andy Murray, Cam Norrie, Andrey Rublev and then Stefanos Tsitsipas in the finals to overcome the burden he had been carrying and become an ATP champion.
“It’s a special day for me,” acknowledged Auger-Aliassime at the time. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and working towards for a while now. Truly, it’s the most special day in my career.”
Félix faces a difficult road ahead in his attempt to repeat as champion in 2023. He’s in the bottom half of the draw as the third seed and opens against Lorenzo Sonego. Future obstacles if the seeds hold true include, Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals, Andrey Rublev in the semifinals and then potentially a finals rematch from a year ago versus No. 1 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Whether he goes out earlier than anticipated or makes a return to the finals, it has been a very positive trajectory so far for Auger-Aliassime to the top of the men’s game. Once he broke through in 2022 in Rotterdam, he quickly added to that total with three consecutive titles last fall winning in Florence, Antwerp and Basel to jump to a career-high ranking of No. 6 in the world.
With two Slam quarter-final showings at Wimbledon in 2021 and the Aussie Open in 2022, along with a semifinalist appearance at the US Open in 2021, our young Canadian star seems well poised for a breakthrough at a Major in the near future. He’s proven in the past year that he’s capable of overcoming adversities and playing his best tennis when it’s needed the most.
LAST WEEK ON THE ATP
Cordoba Open in Cordoba, Argentina
The Cordoba Open offered an opportunity to kick-start the clay court season a bit early for those who prefer playing on the red dirt. Fourth seed Sebastian Baez emerged from the field with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 win over Federico Coria. Coria is the younger brother of 2004 French Open finalist Guillermo Coria.
Dallas Open in Dallas, Texas.
Wu Yibing became the first Chinese player to ever hoist an ATP trophy with his win over John Isner in the finals of the Dallas Open. He defeated Canadian Denis Shapovalov in the Round of Sixteen before taking out Adrian Mannarino in the quarters, Taylor Fritz is the semis before overcoming John Isner in the final 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 7-6(12). In the final, the 23-year-old impressively withstood a barrage of 44 aces from Isner and also saved four championship points!
“I made history here for my country and for my home,” said Wu after hoisting the trophy. “I’m very proud of myself and especially thanks to all the fans and my team who came here to support. I couldn’t do this without any of you guys.”
Shout-out to a good friend of ours at Match Point Canada, Blair Henley, who was the on-court interviewer and behind-the-scenes content creator at the Dallas Open. Blair has been on the podcast many times before including the opening episode of 2023 and consistently gets great answers from players with her engaging style of questioning and strong rapport that’s she cultivated with them over the years. Being a native Texan, she also made sure the players put their cowboy hats on correctly throughout the week!
Open Sud de France in Montpellier, France
Rising star Jannik Sinner captured the title in Montpellier with a 7-6(3), 6-3 victory over big-serving Maxime Cressy. It is already a seventh career ATP trophy for the 21-year-old Sinner who is at No. 14 in the rankings, just a few spots removed from his career-high of No. 9.
The tournament also witnessed one of the most epic displays of racquet smashing that I’ve ever seen from Alexander Bublik who destroyed three racquets in succession in his opening round loss to Gregoire Barrere!