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

Featured

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

Published

on

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.

 

Featured

Slam Winner Virginia Ruzici discusses her career and Halep’s future [EXCLUSIVE]

The Romanian manager tells us of her penniless early days and of her greatest adversaries. She also recounts of her mentee’s dream run at the 2019 Championships and of the sport’s resuming play after the lockdown.

Published

on

Virginia Ruzici (credit Art Seitz)

UbiTennis has interviewed Virginia Ruzici, the 65-year-old former French Open champion from Romania who has been Simona Halep’s manager since 2008. Now living in Paris with her German husband, she reached the eighth spot in the women’s rankings after her win at Roland Garros in 1978. She reached the final once more two years later, losing to Chris Evert, a bonafide nightmare of an opponent for her, and she also made the semis in 1976, while she reached the quarters at least once in each of the four Majors.

 

After hanging her racquet for good, she began a management career, working for the Milan Open and IMG, before becoming Simona Halep’s manager in 2008, fetching her partnerships with brands like Lotto, Nike, and Wilson.

However, her early steps in professional tennis were humble to say the least: “In my late teens, I started to travel around Europe with Mariana Simionescu and Florenta Mihai (also top professionals from Romania), and we were always broke, and not just us – Ion Tiriac, later on my manager and now a billionaire, was always looking for ways to eke out a living in those days.

“We had some custom-made Romanian outfits, and we tried to sell them to pay for our hotel rooms, and on a couple of occasions we accepted to be umpires in France for the equivalent of one or two pounds. When we went to the US for the first time, at the beginning we couldn’t even afford to have our own rooms, and the North American swing lasted for four months back then, so we had better make some money quickly!”

Mariana Simionescu, Bjorn Borg’s first wife, was a particularly close acquaintance of Ruzici’s, her perennial roommate and a peer in the political struggles that Eastern Europeans faced back then when crossing over the Iron Curtain: “When we got to a European city, we immediately had to go to the consulate of the next country on our schedule in order to get a visa. So, if we went to Hamburg, I immediately went to the Italian consulate to get a permit to go to Rome the ensuing week.”

Ruzici spent seven straight years in the world Top 20 and won 12 official titles. However, she is adamant that her real tally is miscalculated: “I actually won fourteen tournaments. For some reasons, my wins in Gstaad, Bastad, and Zurich aren’t counted, while I’ve been attributed three wins in Kitzbuhel, where I only scored a brace.”

Her era was dominated by two of the greatest players of all time, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. The latter was a particularly tough client for the clay-court specialist, being probably the greatest female player to ever lace up on the surface: “I’ve never won against Chris, out of over 20 meetings. She was always too good for me, especially from a mental standpoint. I was an attacking player, and she just grinded me down on every single point, it was exhausting.

“I’ve never got a win against Martina either, at least officially, since I managed to defeat her during an exhibition match in Turin, and another time I also had a 2-5, 15-40 lead in the third against her in Dallas. Honestly, I wish I’d faced her on clay, because I think I could have brought the challenge to her – the only time we played a ‘clay’ match, we were in today’s Ukraine, and she was 16 or something, but the surface was this yellowish mud that I wouldn’t really call clay.”

Despite never vanquishing her biggest foes, she still racked up quite an impressive list of Top 10 victims, among which she mentions Andrea Jaeger (now an Episcopal preacher), Brit Sue Barker, Hana Mandlikova, Helena Sukova, Wendy Turnbull, and Dianne Fromholtz.

Simona Halep clinches the title at Wimbledon. (Credit: WTA via Twitter)

Nowadays, her name is inextricably tied to that of Simona Halep, whom she’s represented since 2008. Ironically, she was initially reluctant to take the job, because after five years with IMG (before that she worked for the Milan Open, spearheading the only women’s edition of the tournament, in 1991, and for Eurosport France) she was tired of being a manager. However, when an Italian promoter, Cino Marchese, counseled otherwise, and after she saw the strides that the teenager had made since she had last seen her, she realised that her fellow countrywoman had what it took to climb the rankings and accomplish something special.

Speaking four languages (Romanian, French, Italian, and English), she immediately started to plant the seeds for some remunerative partnerships, but at first it was hard to get some sponsors to raise their antennae for a diminutive-albeit-pugnacious Eastern European newcomer, even though she had won the Junior French Open right after Virginia came on board. Her first contract was with Lotto, an Italian brand, quite popular in tennis but a far cry from her current Nike deal, which, along with Wilson and a few other contracts, made her the fourth wealthiest female athlete in the world in 2019.

Sure, football die-hard Halep had a contentious relationship with grown-up Slams at first, losing her first three finals, one of them as the overwhelming favourite in Paris against Jelena Ostapenko. Ruzici is unsure whether that was ever a problem: “She lost the first one against Maria Sharapova, who had already won in Paris and who is someone who knows how to bag a Major, and the Australian one against Wozniacki was a nail-biter, ending 7-5 in the third against a former world champion, so they were understandable defeats. It is true, though, that she was crushed after the Ostapenko fiasco, because she was 6-4 3-0 up and suddenly choked, so it might have been a problem at some point.”

Halep finally broke the spell at the 2018 French Open, where she came back to defeat Sloane Stephens, and fulfilled a lifelong dream by winning Wimbledon last year, literally obliterating Serena Williams with a double 6-2 in barely over 50 minutes. Even her mentor was stunned: “She played the match of her life, no doubt about that. Serena had everything to lose, playing for the Slam record, but she admitted herself that she’d never seen Simona play that way, every shot she hit landed exactly where she wanted it to, it was a sight to behold.”

As to why her protégé peaked at the right time, she has a clear explanation: “In the first round, she played a very tight match against another Romanian, Mihaela Buzarnescu, and she might very well have lost that one, and the same goes for most of her matches. Playing such close-call encounters, she felt liberated, and also spent a lot of time on the court, so by the time she played Serena, she was… serene, and her fitness level was superb.”

The Covid-19 hiatus might have been a blessing in disguise for Halep, who injured her foot in Dubai and, according to her manager, would have needed to rest for one or two months anyway. She started to train at her usual pace a month ago, working exclusively on clay due to her affinity with the surface and due to the cheaper price it takes on her joints. Apparently, her training program wasn’t hindered by her coach, Darren Cahill, being unable to fly over from Australia: “She just streams her sessions for him, and he can instruct the on-site coaches to have her do certain drills or others – it’s a bit different than my playing days!”

The world N.2 is scheduled to be the marquee attraction at the first event after play resumes, in Palermo (although Ruzici is non-committal on the issue, she says that hopefully she’ll be ready), and even after then the situation is not very clear, given the spike in Coronavirus cases in the US, a potentially damning blow for Flushing Meadows’ hopes of attracting the best European players: “It’s too early to make a decision, right now she would have to quarantine for two weeks after coming back from New York, so it’s a difficult situation. I’m more optimistic with regards to the French Open, I live in Paris and still wear a mask in public, but the situation has improved a lot and I think that a 50-60% capacity event might actually happen.”

Halep’s ranking is now safe, since her Wimbledon haul will last for one more year, but will she still be at the top for a long time, especially in the wake of what Andy Murray has been saying about a narrowing window for success for older players? “I don’t see her doing what Federer or Serena do, world-class at 38, but I’m sure she’ll still be competing for the biggest prizes in her early-to-mid thirties – don’t forget that she is only going to turn 29 on September 27.”

However Halep’s career progresses from now on, her society with Ruzici has been exceedingly productive for both, and not just in terms of accolades and dough, but in communality in the sporting world too: UbiTennis’s director, Ubaldo Scanagatta, a long-time friend of hers, wants Virginia to be in Palermo with Halep so she can take her to dinner with his family to thank her for the time she’s given to our publication. Ruzici said she will probably eschew that station, but that she would gladly accept his invite during the French Open. It’s a date, then.

 

Continue Reading

Featured

Federer shoots a new Barilla commercial on an Italian rooftop

Published

on

Roger Federer in the Italian town of Novi Ligure. (Credit: ilsecoloxix.it)

Roger Federer has suddenly appeared on an Italian rooftop in the town of Finale Ligure (in the province of Savona, a one-hour drive from Genoa) to shoot a new TV commercial for Barilla, the world’s largest pasta producer, for which the Swiss legend has been the celebrity spokesman since 2017.

 

The setting for the ad is not a random choice. As a matter of fact, that same location made quite a few headlines during the Coronavirus lockdown, as two girls, Vittoria Olivieri and Carola Pessina (13 and 11 years old), rallied and traded shots from the rooftop of their respective buildings. The video immediately went viral in the tennis world, and was shared by the ATP’s official website:

Obviously, it was this quarantine video toBto attract Barilla and Federer’s to the small seaside town. For this commercial, though, the Swiss maestro wasn’t asked to wear an apron and cook with a starred chef, but rather to showcase his own top notch skills, albeit in a peculiar setting. In fact, the two girls were asked to re-create their famous rooftop rally, but this time with a special sparring partner like Roger Federer.

Continue Reading

Featured

Maria Sharapova – A Closer Look

Many followers of the game have an opinion about Maria Sharapova both as a player and a person. Mark Winters, who traveled on a portion of her career tennis journey, offers personal insight about the remarkable Russian.

Published

on

Prev1 of 4
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Wednesday, February 26th, Maria Sharapova, in a story written for Vanity Fair and Vogue, announced she was retiring from competitive tennis. The resulting Maria features created an avalanche of hurrahs. The tales touched on the youngster coming, practically penniless, to the US from Russia with her father; her scoring a career Grand Slam winning all the majors, (including Roland Garros twice). Some mentioned that since the age of 21 she has contended with not only with formidable opponents but nearly constant right shoulder pain. The financial success she enjoyed on and off the court was detailed. Her suspension for using Meldonium was widely covered, as was the fact that the former No. 1 had seen her ranking slip to No. 131 at the end 2019. It disintegrated further, bottoming out at No. 373 when she called it a day. There were enough Hallelujahs to complete an oratorio. There were also a few “she’s not a saint” exhalations. They touched on her being a loner, standoffish and seemingly, haughty. Reading the Maria narratives caused me to reflect on one of tennis’ most unique players who transcended the game.

 

Sharapova was born April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia, after her parents Yuri and Yelana had left the area near Chernobyl where the nuclear meltdown changed their lives as they knew it, in 1986. Two years after her birth, the family moved to Sochi. Shortly before her seventh birthday, she and her father arrived in the US. Her mother, who was unable to obtain a visa, didn’t make the journey.

Most tennis fans are aware that she and her father, Yuri Sharapov, migrated to the US in 1994. They ended up in Bradenton, Florida, after the six-year-old had impressed Martina Navratilova at a 1993 clinic that was held in Moscow. The Hall of Famer suggested that Yuri, who was coaching his daughter, should find an established instructor and suggested contacting Nick Bollettieri, who was based at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.

I first met Sharapova and watched her practice in the spring of 2001, just before she turned 14. She was working with legendary coach Robert Lansdorp in Southern California. He had begun mentoring her when she was 11.

Over the years, Bollettieri has received Clio Prize winning PR concerning his relationship with her. Overlooked is the fact that Rick Macci provided direction after Sharapova first arrived in the United States. But when she signed with IMG in 1995, Macci’s mentoring came to an end.

Lansdorp, who developed a legion of formidable players including Grand Slam tournament winners, Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras and Lindsay Davenport (to name but a few of the standout players he tutored), has received plaudits for his work with Sharapova. Long ago, he brought out that Yuri Sharapov had seen Davenport play and wanted his daughter to have a forehand like hers. So, when she was 11, Maria and Yuri came to Southern California and teamed up with Lansdorp.

The forehand he teaches, as it is produced along with the results it brings about,  is distinctive and renowned. The relaxed, almost rubbery, right arm is pulled wide from the side of the body. The elbow bends and flares out as the racquet extends into the contact point and carries the ball through the hitting zone. The stroke finishes above the left shoulder in a high follow through. The “Lansdorp Drive” uses the entire arm and more important, a “classic” grip, (not an extreme version like the one Nadal employs).

Over the years, having watched countless elite juniors hit forehands, I can quickly identify a player who has worked with Lansdorp based on his/her forehand – bent elbow on the take-back, then the long follow through. The mechanics seem to have been instilled in his players like a tattoo on their psyche. Videos of Austin, Sampras and Davenport hitting forehands during their pro careers clearly marked them as his pupils.

Prev1 of 4
Use your ← → (arrow) keys to browse

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending