Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2019 Rio Open results.
We’re jumping the gun, here, of course we are—but isn’t jumping the gun half the fun in sports when you’re a fan?
Isn’t half the fun yelling obnoxiously loud how incredible player X will be, or how many Grand Slam titles player Y will win, and risk being dead, dead wrong? At least it is for us.
We’re speaking about the newest in what’s become quite a long line of excellent and young Canadian players to take the tennis world by storm, with Felix Auger-Aliassime over the weekend celebrating the very first foray into the inner circle of men’s tennis at the Rio Open. The 18-year-old now follows in the footsteps of Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic before him, and Eugenie Bouchard in the WTA, as a talented and precocious Canuck who seems wise beyond his years and who manages to come crash the party out of nowhere and when we least expected it.
In the case of Auger-Aliassime, this came in the form of a run all the way to the Rio Open final, where he lost to Laslo Djere by the final score of 6-3 and 7-5. The Canadian, lest we forget, entered the Brazilian event as a wild card, then overwhelmed second-favourite Fabio Fognini in two easy sets in the first round before more or less cruising through the rest of the main draw until the final.
As a result of all this, Auger-Aliassime enters the ATP World Tour Top 100 for the first time in his (very short) career, peaking at now No. 60 this morning. He’s now the third Canadian on the men’s side among the best, very best, young, promising (and/or any other permutation of the previous adjectives) of his sport.
Despite how things turned out on Sunday, it’s safe to say that Felix The Cat—can we call him Felix The Cat, even though nobody seems to be calling him that?—has won even after he’s lost the Rio final. For one thing, he came out of nowhere and in the thick of hockey season in a Canadian country, and made all of us tune in for a tennis match.
For another, Auger-Aliassime’s arrival is yet another sterling moment for Canadian men’s tennis, which has accustomed us to quite a few of them over the years. For the longest time, Canada only ever shined in doubles when it comes to men’s tennis and yet, now it feels like we’ve reached the crest of the wave, which started a few years ago with Milos Raonic’s ascent behind his booming serve and has lasted until today.
Basically, what we’re saying is that it’s an exciting to be a fan of Canadian tennis. We’ve now got three players among the top 60 or so on the men’s side, with the youngest two of the trio seemingly on the verge of great and massive things.
Maybe this is recency bias speaking here, because again Felix has just just just done this over the last week, but could it be that FAA will be the best one yet?
Remember, Auger-Aliassime has been anointed as a possible next one since so long ago: consider that the (young) man made it to No. 2 in the world as a juniors behind a 2016 US Open triumph and, last summer, became the youngest player ever to successfully defend an ATP Challenger title. Before turning 18, he managed to grab three titles, which doesn’t feel like so much in absolute terms but which is a daunting number when you see that it puts him level with Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro (i.e. Richard Gasquet being first on this list with five titles is a mild surprise).
All of this highlights Auger-Aliassime’s talented and well-rounded game, one that has him at ease on pretty much any surface and which gives him a great serve and good touch at the net.
Of course, Felix very well could fail. Remember this past summer at the US Open, when pals and youngsters Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov battled in the first round until the latter retired due to a “fast heart rate?”
Well, what this doom scenario calls for is for the heart scare-that’s-actually-a-defect to turn into a career-threatening issue; you know, it’s nothing too major apparently but, like, what if it actually was all along and what happens then huh? (That’s probably why I never made it to med school.)
But nah, that’s not happening and Felix is definitely winning multiple Grand Slams, sorry not sorry. Being a fan calls for hyperbole so we might as well say that Felix is going undefeated in the, like, 2022 season and there’s not a peep you can do about it.
You’re next, Felix. Welcome to the big show.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG