EXCLUSIVE: Felix Auger Aliassime, The Coming-Of-Age Of A Champion - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: Felix Auger Aliassime, The Coming-Of-Age Of A Champion

An exclusive interview with Guillaume Marx, one of the coaches of Felix Auger Aliassime

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Felix Auger-Aliassime - Toronto 2018 (via Twitter, @rogerscup)

After Denis Shapovalov’s memorable run to the Rogers Cup semifinals in Montreal in 2017, somebody thought that his “BFF” Felix Auger Aliassime (n. 120 ATP), one year his junior, could relive the same dream a year later in Toronto. But this is tennis, not Hollywood, and after his maiden Top 20 win in the first round against Lucas Pouille (a fairly out-of-form Top 20, to tell the truth), the Canadian boy who shares his birthday with Roger Federer (8th August) ended his run against Daniil Medveded, who edged him in the second round by 7-6 in the third set.

 

During the week we had the opportunity to catch up with one of Auger Aliassime’s two coaches, Guillaume Marx, a Tennis Canada coach who follows Felix almost full-time together with Frenchman Frederic Fontang.

This was the first Rogers Cup for Felix: one great win with Pouille and an unlucky loss with Medvedev. How did he live this first experience in his home-town tournament, with all the extra pressures and extra demands on his time?

He didn’t do anything drastic, such as shutting down his phone or avoid the newspapers. He managed the situation, he had been thinking about it for a long time. I think he has progressively gotten used to pressure, it’s not his first experience on a big stage, and he didn’t look nervous before his first match. And when you play well everything gets easier. But he was definitely more excited than stressed.

Did he manage to celebrate his eighteenth birthday?

I think he celebrated it the night before, because on his birthday he had a match, so I think he had his cake the night before.

From a technical point of view, how has his progress been compared to what was expected of him?

I believe that technically he currently is at the level we were expecting. Somebody believes that it’s taking him too long to break in the Top-100, but we think he is progressing very well. As coaches, we are more inclined to look at his game level rather than his ranking: he has improved a lot during the last few months, while at the beginning of the year he did not play well, partly because of his injury [an injured knee forced him to skip the Australian swing in January], but now he is expressing a good level of tennis.

If Felix had won his match against Medvedev, where he has been two points away from victory, he would have reached the 105-106th position in the ranking, meaning a probable direct acceptance into the Australian Open main draw. Well, that didn’t happen, so what are his plans for the immediate future?

Next week we will be in Vancouver for the Challenger tournament, then we would go to New York for the US Open qualifying tournament. After that, we will need to see whether he will be nominated as part of the Canadian team for the Davis Cup tie in Toronto [Canada will play the Netherlands on 13-15 September in the Davis Cup World Group Play-Off] and assess his ranking at that point to figure out his schedule for the rest of the season.

It was very surprising Felix’s decision to skip the grass season completely and continue playing Challengers tournaments on clay in Europe. How was that decision taken?

Before Roland Garros we had a very long tour on clay with good results from a technical standpoint and average results. We thought we were doing a good job, catching up with what we had not done at the beginning of the year because of his injury. Therefore, we thought we could buy some time and do some more work by skipping one surface switch. Playing on grass would have meant switching from clay to grass and then from grass to hard later in the summer. Changing surface takes quite some time because you need to get used to it and that slows down the development work. Furthermore, grass is a bit of a strange surface, you don’t know how it is going to turn out, so we thought it was best to take this decision.

And what did Felix think about it? In the end, he needs to be the one buying into it, did he need convincing?

In the end what Frederic and I were suggesting did make sense, so he thought ‘why not thinking outside the box?’, and he got on board very quickly. We only had one conversation about the whole issue and the decision was made.

Every time I see Felix he looks like he has grown up? Are you monitoring his height? Do you know if he is still growing or not?

We know for sure that he grew up last year. The last time we measured him it was in January, and I don’t think he grew up in the last few months.

Do you measure him with or without hair?

Without hair, otherwise he would be too tall.

What kind of program does he follow to prevent injuries?

Every day Felix does some exercises precisely aimed at preventing injuries. When we have time we do even more work towards this, but even during days when he has a match the program needs to be followed.

A few years ago, Felix announced that he has a heart condition [tachycardia] that affects his activity. Does he need to follow a specific fitness regime because of this or take medications?

No, there are no specific precautions that need to be taken. We believe the condition is linked to his growth and it is going to disappear with time. Episodes have been extremely rare during the past two years, so we don’t need to do anything specific. Of course, we try to be careful when we see he is tired, but nothing more than that.

Is that an inborn condition?

Yes, that’s what it is.

Is there a lot of pressure on Felix for him to obtain results quickly?

He puts a lot of expectations on himself, and this helps to cope with the pressures from the outside environment. The pressure he puts on himself is more than the pressure coming from the outside. Felix is very invested in his career, he is ready to do whatever it takes to obtain the results he expects from himself and the people around him expect from him, so from our point of view there is not much to do on this aspect.to impro

Do you think the great friendship existing between Denis [Shapovalov] and Felix is positive for their careers?

I think so, they are very good friends, they push each other and the fact that their careers have followed different paths has certainly helped them. Since last year the spotlight has mainly been focused on Denis, following his success at the Rogers Cup, and this has taken some pressure off Felix, who in turn had been in the spotlight for the previous two years. The current situation is ideal: the two boys can share the load of expectations and push each other to improve.

You have said that Felix’s schedule will depend partly on him making the Davis Cup Team or not. Do you think that being part of the team at this stage in his career is a positive thing or maybe it’s a week that he could use otherwise?

I believe it is positive. Now that there are five people in the Davis Cup team it is a good thing for Felix to participate to the tie. If he were to go there as the sixth player it would be a different matter: Felix is too good a player at this stage to be just the team’s hitting partner, and it would be more useful to play a tournament during that week. But being officially part of the team is good.

How do you and Frederic Fontang share the workload?

We communicate a lot and we make all the decisions together. We share the traveling because it would be too much to do for only one person, and I follow Felix when he is in North America and he follows him while he is in Europe. We also try to schedule some training weeks together when possible, but what’s most important is that we share the traveling time.

Where is the training base for Felix?

He is based here at the Tennis Canada National Training Centre in Montreal for the time being. Maybe in future we will consider moving to a warmer place, but at the moment we stay in Montreal.

 

Editorial

Women’s Tennis’ Best Player Wins Again

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It wasn’t long ago that Naomi Osaka appeared to be a talented young tennis player who had lost her way. On a rather warm April day in Charleston, S.C., in the 2018 Volvo Car Open, the then 20-year-old had had enough. As perspiration streamed down her face while she walked to her bench on
the jam-packed smallish outside Althea Gibson Club Court, Osaka looked at her coach and made the remark that she didn’t want to be there. Of course, she was losing. Osaka finished that round of 16 match, eventually losing to Julia Goerges.

 

NO WORRIES ABOUT PURSE
Obviously, Osaka wasn’t worried about the larger purse she missed by losing that day in Charleston. Money wasn’t that big a deal. Just two weeks earlier, Osaka had earned a $1.34 million check for winning the mega tournament at Indian Wells, Calif. The world was her game.
A few months later, Osaka won her first Grand Slam title at the 2018 U.S. Open. And now the powerful 5-11 native of Osaka, Japan, looks unstoppable with four Grand Slam titles in less than three years. Serena Williams probably is more worried about Osaka matching her record than Serena is
about surpassing Margaret Court in the number of Grand Slam titles.
Osaka is that good these days on the court, while making waves with her politeness and well-spoken interviews.

BRADY NO MATCH FOR OSAKA
Jennifer Brady was no match for Osaka in Saturday’s Australian Open final, falling much the same way Serena Williams had been dominated a couple of nights earlier. Osaka just turned the6-3, 6-4 victory she posted over Williams to a 6-4, 6-3 over Brady and a second straight Australian Open title.
Brady tried to out-hit Osaka. That was a mistake as the 24-year-old former UCLA star couldn’t keep her over-hit balls on the court in the face of Osaka’s meticulously placed, yet powerful serves and ground strokes. Brady fell victim to Osaka’s near-perfect cross-court put-aways from both sides on short balls.

OSAKA WAS A SUPERSTAR IN WAITING
The first time I watched Osaka in person was in the 2017 Volvo Car Open when a red-hot Shelby Rogers (she had just beaten long-time friend Madison Keys) scored a straight-set victory as Osaka watched too many of her shots miss their mark. It was rather surprising even then as a 19-year-old that Osaka was often losing matches. Her game was already spectacularly based on power. She was so talented and good that she was a
can’t-miss future superstar. Osaka is a quicker version of Serena. She has the entire package of talent.

No one in women’s tennis probably has better control of her shots and serves in pressure situations than Osaka. She also must have some of the quickest feet in the game, while being able to fight off her opponent’s hardest-hit shots with her upper body strength. It’s not surprising that Chrissie Evert calls Osaka “the best player in the world.” She may be just that by a long ways.


James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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Medvedev, Not Tsitsipas, Looks Like A Grand Slam Champion

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Stefanos Tsitsipas looked like he might be a serious contender to win this Australian Open after his startling upset of Rafa Nadal in the quarterfinals.
But then, it wasn’t as much that Tsitsipas won that match as it was that Nadal lost it. Nadal was just out there the last two sets and the third-set tiebreaker after smothering Tsitsipas the first two sets.

 

NADAL WASN’T HIMSELF
Obviously, Nadal wasn’t himself physically after the first two sets. He was completely un-Nadal, even flubbing a pair of overheads in the tiebreaker. Those two overheads told the story for a player who quite possibly has the best overhead in men’s tennis. And then there was the string of miss-hit ground strokes by Nadal while repeatedly not even making a move for the ball at times during the last three sets as he watched Tsitsipas hit winners that normally would have been answered by Nadal.

TSITSIPAS ENJOYED HIS CAKE WHEN HE COULD
Tsitsipas made the last two sets of his 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4, 7-5 win over Nadal look like eating a piece of cake. It was evident that he faced little resistance from Nadal. Yet, I for one was fooled into thinking that the athletic 22-year-old Greek was a little better than he really is.
Even John McEnroe was predicting that Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev might win 10 Grand Slam titles between them. If that happens, Medvedev likely will have to win all 10 by himself.

A GRAND SLAM CHAMPION?
Tsitsipas just doesn’t look like a Grand Slam champion. At least, not in the Australian Open semifinals in his straight-set rout by Medvedev. Tsitsipas appeared to be following the sameformat against Medvedev that he used against Nadal, following two lackluster sets with an upgrade in his energy and play in a tight third set. Tsitsipas had Medvedev thinking the semifinals could be a repeat of the quarterfinals if the Russian didn’t pull his game together late in the third set to wrap up a 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 victory and a spot opposite Novak Djokovic in the final. Of course, the young Greek might get better with age.

MEDVEDEV COULD COOL DOWN AGAINST NOVAK
Tsitsipas might sneak up and win a major when the other new stars of the game see their games briefly fall apart or the “Great Three” of Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic have faded into just legends of the game. Of course, there is a chance that Medvedev could cool down before or during Sunday’s
championship match against the rubber-like Djokovic. But maybe not. I could see Medvedev wearing Djokovic down. This will be Medvedev’s second Grand Slam final. He may be ready this time to pull it off this
time.

THE PHENOMENALLY TALENTED NOVAK
Djokovic is a phenomenal talent, especially in Rod Laver Arena in the middle of the U.S. night. His only weakness has been his physicality. He has shown that weakness throughout his career, although not enough to prevent him from winning 17 Grand Slam titles, just three behind Nadal
and Federer. You might say Djokovic has owned Rod Laver Arena. Eight titles Down Under is almost as amazing as Nadal’s 13 French Open crowns. Nearing his 34th birthday, Djokovic, of course, is a little younger than both Nadal and Federer. But Novak is less than a year younger than Nadal. Federer is 39 and looking a lot like Super Bowl wonder Tom Brady.


James Beck has been the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com and search for James Beck.

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If Rafael Nadal Can Struggle With Self-Confidence, So Can You!

Ubitennis spoke to sport psychology consultant Adam Blicher about the role of believing in oneself in tennis.

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The best tennis players look and act very self-confident, but we forget that what they are experiencing might be completely different from what we are able to see from the outside. They too are experiencing uncertainty and doubt. Just like you and I. Some days, you feel like you move effortlessly, and it almost seem like you can’t miss the court with your forehand. Other days you doubt if you can even put your forehand into the court.

 

20-time Grand Slam Champion Rafael Nadal talked in press conferences about his lack of self-confidence in 2015. He expressed how he did not experience the feeling of self-confidence despite the fact that he will go down in the history books as one of the best players the world has ever seen.

So if you sometimes get the thought that you are the only one struggling with confidence, remember that even the best players in the world struggle. The best players in the world are not super-humans who only have positive thoughts, are always motivated and feel very self-confident.

Also remember that more self-confidence is not always better. There is a very fine line between having high self-confidence and having too big of an ego. If you are having too big of an ego, it often leads to not preparing well enough, or you might get a little bit too cocky in the way that you are going about your performance.

That said, it can also be problematic to not experience any self-confidence at all which might then lead you to dwell and to struggle with quick decision-making on the court. You might find yourself accepting to hit too many backhands instead of covering more of the court with your forehand; or, instead of stepping up close to the baseline, you find yourself playing more defensive a meter behind the baseline.

We need to redefine our understanding of self-confidence. We cannot let out emotional state dictate our performances as our emotions are fleeting and very hard to control. If you try to control your emotions all of your focus and energy will be occupied fighting an internal battle instead of having full awareness on your gameplan and executing your shots fighting the outside battle against the player on the other side of the court.

The act of self-confidence comes before the feeling.

When Rafael Nadal talks about his lack of self-confidence, he is talking about the feeling of self-confidence. Rafael understands that he can’t control the feeling, but what he can control is his actions. He understands that the antidote to the doubt, and the worries that is creeping in on him, is courage. The courage to step up to the line, covering two thirds of the court with his weapon and keep following his gameplan despite the feeling of self-confidence not being present at all times.

Rafael understands that the feeling of self-confidence is a bonus that comes after the good performances. Not the other way around as many tend to think. Many are stuck in the belief that we need to feel or think in a certain way before we are able to perform well. That “if I only had more self-confidence, then I would perform better.” Maybe in reality it’s about having the courage to act like you already had the confidence in order to provide yourself with the opportunity of performing well. Then, after the good performance, the nice feeling of self-confidence might arise as a bonus making it easier to be courageous in your actions for the next match.

Remember that the act of self-confidence comes before the feeling.

Adam Blicher
Danish Sport Psychologist Consultant Adam Blicher is a member of the International Sport Mental Coach Association

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