Monday, September 26, 2022

Meet Giant Slayer The Teenage Tennis Sensation Felix Auger-Aliassime

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Sharing a birthday with Roger Federer is a good start for any tennis player, but ‘youngest ever’ tags are attaching themselves to Felix Auger-Aliassime more than they ever did to the teenage Swiss. The 18-year-old Canadian will become the youngest Miami Open semi-finalist ever when he plays John Isner on Friday, displacing Rafael Nadal. With a father originally from Togo and a Canadian mother, the teenage Quebecois is the latest on the improbable production line of outstanding talent from a country that spends much of its winter under snow. Earlier this month, another 18-year-old from the land of the Maple Leaf, Bianca Andreescu, won the prestigious women’s title at Indian Wells. Now her compatriot, who became the youngest ever to win ATP Challenger-level matches when he was only 14, is blossoming in the early spring. With a 5-0 record over top-20 players, Auger-Aliassime is suddenly not only mixing with, but beating the top players — his latest victim being world No 13 Borna Coric. 

‘They seem like they are not even human, so far away playing these tournaments on your TV,’ said Auger-Aliassime in an accent with a slight French twang. ‘Now to actually see them in person, it felt surreal at first, but I have got used to it and it’s not overwhelming anymore.’ Auger-Aliassime (pronounced Ow-jer) adheres to the common rule of leading tennis players having at least one parent who emigrated from the land of their birth and having a name that is something of a mouthful. ‘My dad is a tennis coach and he would bring me to all of his lessons,’ said the polite and softly spoken Canadian. ‘I was always around the tennis courts so I kind of grew up with a racket in my hand.’ As a child he played soccer as a winger and while he has an all-round tennis game with seemingly no weaknesses, it is his turbo-charged speed that stands out. His biggest obstacle to success has been a problem with heart palpitations, which required a procedure at the end of last year. They struck during his US Open debut in September (he has never even played at senior Wimbledon) and the match had to be stopped.  ‘It was the worst feeling of my life. The cardio thing I have dealt with since I was eight, so I wasn’t scared for my health or anything, I just couldn’t believe it happened at that moment. ‘But at the end of the year, I went on the table again and they were able to find it. I know a lot of people who have done that surgery. It’s behind me now.’ Among the tennis cognoscenti he has been an open secret for some time, although few expected him to be on the brink of the top 30 already. Now marked down more than ever as a future champion, Auger-Aliassime uses the word ‘grounded’ a lot as he tries to maintain a semblance of normal teenage life. ‘Tennis takes a lot of my time but hanging out with friends, meeting girls, going to the movies — all that stuff I like to do, but obviously tennis is my priority. It has been an adjustment to stay grounded and be patient because I don’t want to burn steps.’ Photo Credit: Getty

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