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.

 

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Elina Svitolina Earns First Win Over Keys To Seal Quarter-Final Place

Elina Svitolina advanced to the Australian Open quarter-finals for the second year in a row with victory over Madison Keys.

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Elina Svitolina (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

Elina Svitolina withstood a second-set fightback to defeat Madison Keys 6-2 1-6 6-1 and progress to the Australian Open quarter-final for the second successive year.

The Ukrainian, 24, lost both her previous meetings with the American, including an exciting last-16 clash at the 2017 US Open that also went the distance.

However, she was determined to win this time, and she produced some excellent tennis in the first and third sets to make it happen.

“I played good tennis today,” Svitolina said in her post-match interview. “Madison played great in the second set, so I had to raise my level. I was really happy I handled the pressure at one-all in the third set.”

Svitolina made a great start to the match. She played a variety of shots that rushed Keys and forced into all sorts of uncomfortable positions.

By contrast, the American could not seem to get going. She kept going for big shots and missing the court.

Consequently, the World No.17 made 11 unforced errors in the set. Svitolina, on the other hand, remained consistent throughout and wrapped up the first set 6-2 in just 31 minutes.

Keys storms back in set two

Photo from Australian Open Twitter account

On some occasions in the past, Keys has struggled when a first set has gone that badly for her. But this time she quickly found her range in the second set and soon turned the match around.

It began with an easy hold. Then the American unleashed a series of huge groundstrokes to break the Ukrainian in the game.

In the third game, Keys had to work a bit harder to hold, but it did not seem to do her any harm as she proceeded to take apart Svitolina’s serve and break her to love to move 4-0 ahead.

The World No.6 finally got on the scoreboard in the set in the sixth game, but the set did not last much longer as the American held twice more with ease to close out the set 6-1.

Keys’ stats for the second set are very impressive: she hit 16 winners, made just five unforced errors, won 77% of all points behind her serve and won 27 of the 38 points played.

Svitolina produces her best tennis when it matters most

In the first game of the decider, Svitolina raised her game to hold. However, she soon found her serve under intense pressure again as the American took her to deuce an incredible 11 times in game three.

The Ukrainian managed to save three break points (one of them with a brilliant forehand on the stretch), and Keys wasted a couple more, before the World No.6 eventually hung on for what would prove to be a crucial hold.

After she failed to break, the World No.17 played a loose game on her own serve and suddenly found herself 3-1 down.

Svitolina celebrated the break enthusiastically and looked confident from that point on. She came in and finished a couple of points clinically during a comfortable hold of serve, and then worked Keys around the court intelligently to earn another break and give herself the chance to serve for the match at 5-1.

The Ukrainian made no mistake. She played a couple more excellent points during the game to secure the hold she needed to finish the match and seal her place in the last eight.

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Ashleigh Barty Earns First Grand Slam Quarter-Final With Thrilling Win Over Sharapova

Ashleigh Barty beat Maria Sharapova in an exciting three-set match to progress to her first Grand Slam quarter-final.

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Ashleigh Barty overcame Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 in a gripping match to advance to the first Grand Slam quarter-final of her career at the Australian Open.

The Australian, 22, has risen steadily up the rankings since she returned to tennis in 2016 following a spell away playing cricket for the Brisbane Heat.

And today she sent the home crowd on the Rod Laver Arena into raptures by beating one of the most famous players in the sport with a performance full of character.

“(Sharapova) is an absolute champion,” Barty said in her post-match interview. “I knew that I just had to keep chipping away and just trust the work we’ve done (to prepare).”

She continued, “I know that I can match it with the best when I execute (the way I want).”

In the first three games of the match, both players held serve easily. However, the games got tighter and tighter as the set wore on, and eventually Sharapova earned the first break point in the seventh game.

Barty saved it, and soon had a couple of chances to break the Russian. She was ultimately unable to take them, but it was clear by now that serving was no longer the dominant force in the match.

This was especially true in game nine, as Sharapova was fired up by her gutsy hold. She cut out the errors from her play, hit deeper and harder and earned two break points.

The Australian saved them both, but then made a double-fault to hand the Russian another chance. And she gifted the World No.30 the break with a loose backhand that went wide.

It proved crucial, as Sharapova held to love to close out the first set 6-4.

Barty turns it around in the second set

The five-time Grand Slam champion put Barty’s serve under pressure again in the first game of the second set, but the Australian held firm to fend her off.

The World No.15 started to use her variety more effectively in the next few games, and it eventually unsettled Sharapova so much that she played a succession of poor shots and dropped her serve in game four.

Barty backed up the break with a dominant service game to move 4-1 ahead. She then put a bit of pressure on the Russian’s serve and watched the World No.30 fall apart and lose the game to love.

To the delight of the home crowd, the Australian quickly wrapped up the second set 6-1 to level the match at one-set all.

Barty holds off Sharapova comeback to seal win

Sharapova took a lengthy bathroom break to compose herself, and she was greeted by a chorus of boos when she returned to the court.

Either that upset the Russian, or she was still thinking about the second set, because she played an awful first service game and dropped her serve for the second time in succession.

And things got worse for the World No.30 from then on, as Sharapova failed to take advantage of a 15-30 scoreline on Barty’s serve and then proceeded to lose her own serve again and fall 3-0 behind.

On the other side of the net, the Australian remained calm and continued to play sensible, calculated tennis to consolidate her lead at 4-1.

But there was another twist around the corner, as Barty made a couple of errors to hand the Russian two break points. Sharapova took the second to cut the deficit to 4-2.

In the next game, the World No.15 tried everything to restore the double break, but the five-time Grand Slam champion dug in and held onto her serve.

Remarkably, it looked like the Russian was about to draw level in game eight when she earned two break points. However, she failed to take her chances and Barty held on to lead 5-3.

Sharapova then held to make sure the Australian would have to serve for the match. And for a couple of minutes, it looked like she would do it easily when she raced into a 40-15 lead.

But the Russian slammed a huge forehand winner and then Barty double-faulted to make it deuce. The World No.15 wasted another match point with an error, but she eventually sealed the win at the fourth time of asking with an ace.

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Simona Halep takes down Venus in style to earn Serena showdown

World No.1 Simona Halep took down Venus Williams in straight sets to progress to a last-16 encounter with Serena Williams.

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Simona Halep produced a superb performance to beat Venus Williams 6-2 6-3 and set up a mouth-watering clash with Serena Williams in the last 16 at the Australian Open.

The Romanian, 27, missed the last month of the 2018 season with a herniated disc in her back, but she seems to be rapidly re-discovering her form once again.

Halep put Venus’ serve under intense pressure immediately and challenged her in every way in the opening set. Initially, the American responded well and saved three break points in her first two service games.

However, the World No.36 eventually succumbed in the fifth game and Halep got the break she wanted.

What happened next was arguably even more crucial, as Venus had four chances to get an immediate break back. But the World No.1 made it difficult for her on every break point, and she was unable to take advantage.

Buoyed by holding serve, Halep immediately broke again and soon clinched the opening set 6-2.

The Romanian enjoyed a lot of success by attacking Venus’ forehand and drawing errors from it in the first set. However, the American tightened up that side in the second set, and it began on a more even keel when the players traded breaks.

The World No.36 also reacted well to hold onto serve after Halep hit three excellent winners to earn two break points in game three.

The score moved on to 3-3 as the next few service games passed without a hitch for either player. The World No.1 held in particularly impressive style as she only dropped one point in two games.

Halep raises her game again to seal victory

Venus’ foothold in the match did not last long, however, as Halep stepped up her returning in game seven and broke with relative ease.

The Romanian finished off the match in impressive style. She hit a brilliant backhand to secure a hold in game eight, and then an excellent forehand to clinch her fifth break and earn a 6-3 scoreline in the set.

“It was a great match,” Halep said in her post-match interview. “I think it was the best match I’ve played so far this year so I’m really happy.”

“It’s always a big challenge to play against Williams sisters so I was super-motivated today. I enjoyed the atmosphere a lot so thank you everyone for coming and being so nice to me.”

When the interviewer mentioned the Romanian’s upcoming encounter with Serena, she laughed nervously and said, “Yeah, not easy – I just have to enjoy it and give my best. I actually have nothing to lose. I will be playing against a great champion so it’s going to be a bigger challenge but I’m ready to face it.”

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