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.
Daria Kasatkina Ends Konta’s Run In Moscow
Daria Kasatkina overcame Britain’s Johanna Konta in straight sets to reach the final in Moscow for the second consecutive year.
Daria Kasatkina produced her best tennis under pressure to see off the challenge of Johanna Konta 6-4 6-3 and reach the final of the Kremlin Cup for the second year in a row.
The Russian, 21, is competing in what could be her last tournament of the year and she looks set to end an already-excellent season in style.
Kasatkina made it to two Grand Slam quarter-finals at the French Open and Wimbledon and WTA Premier finals in Dubai and Indian Wells, so if she could win her first title of 2018 on home turf on Saturday it would be a dream finish to the year.
For a time against Konta, it looked like it would be smooth sailing for the Russian as she charged into a 5-2 lead.
However, the Brit has been fighting hard in all her matches this week and she summoned that same spirit once again to save four break points in game eight and then break Kasatkina in game nine.
By this stage, it had become an extraordinary set. Both players had faced numerous break points and virtually every game could have gone either way.
In the end, Kasatkina came up with her finest moments when it mattered most. She hit a couple of sparkling winners to break Konta’s serve for the second time and take the opener 6-4.
Although it began with a bizarre exchange of breaks, the second set was far more straightforward for the Russian.
She gained confidence from a love hold in game three. Then she cleverly worked her way back into Konta’s next service game from 40-0 down and eventually broke to lead 3-1.
When Kasatkina followed that success with another love hold, the match was as good as over. And, sure enough, four games later she wrapped up the win by taking the second set 6-3.
Remarkable week continues for Ons Jabeur
The Russian will face a surprising opponent in the final in the shape of qualifier Ons Jabeur, who has had to win seven matches in Moscow to reach this stage.
After making it through three rounds of qualifying, the Tunisian beat Ekaterina Makarova, Sloane Stephens and Anett Kontaveit to reach the semi-final.
Jabeur then overcame a third opponent in the World’s Top 25, Anastasija Sevastova, 6-3 3-6 6-3 to reach the first WTA final of her career. Can she add a fourth high-profile scalp?
Whatever happens, the Tunisian will move up the rankings from 101 to 63. If she beats Kasatkina, she will be the new World No.49.
Sloane Stephens Overpowers Victoria Azarenka To Advance In New York
A determined and dangerous looking Sloane Stephens brushed aside two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the third round of the US Open on Friday. The third seed produced a fine performance to down Azarenka 6-3, 6-4 on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The defending champion began the match in fantastic fashion as she was moving terrifically on the court, hitting her shots beautifully on the run, and using the angles extremely well. On the other hand Azarenka was really struggling with her first serve and it cost her dearly early on in the first set as she lost her serve in the third game.
Stephens was generating so much power on her shots and directing them towards Azarenka, who was allowing herself to be dragged all over the place. Errors on the Azarenka forehand continued to pile and Stephens broke to love to take the first set. It was really solid tennis from the American.
Stephens picked up where she left off, and Azarenka was looking more and more frustrated at her inability to play her aggressive brand of tennis, which she is known for. Stephens was making mistakes, but they all still seemed to be staying in the court, whereas Azarenka’s errors were giving away points and the vital break in the 4th game of the second set. However, Stephens gave the break right back, with a double-fault.
Azarenka then found her rhythm and surged ahead for the first time with a break of serve. But, her happiness didn’t last long as Stephens broke back again after a brief rain break, which forced the roof to be closed. It was undoubtedly tremendous tennis from Stephens eventually, breaking the Azarenka serve once more to finish off the match. The rallying was simply exceptional during the encounter.
In her on-court interview, Stephens credited her fighting spirit for the win. She said: “I just battled as hard as I could, ran down every ball. I was playing a former grand slam champion, she raised her level and sometimes things got tight. I just had to stay in it and I did that well. I fought for every point. I’ve never played under this roof so it was super cool. The man upstairs was definitely looking after me. I was thankful for the break.”
Roger Federer Moves Into US Open Third Round
Second seed Roger Federer comfortably booked his place in the third round of the US Open after a 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 win over Benoit Paire of France on Thursday.
The Basel native was in imperious form as he continued his quest for a record sixth title in New York. The 20-time Grand Slam champion needed just 116 minutes to see off Paire, who had lost all his six previous matches with Federer.
Federer made an extremely swift start to the match, breaking the Frenchman early in the fifth game of the opening set in classically effortless style. However, Paire was able to fight back almost immediately as a sloppy game by Federer handed Paire a break point in the eighth game. And the Swiss went on to hit another wayward forehand to concede the game. It was all square in the first set.
Despite the setback in game No. 8, Federer wasn’t to be denied as he swiped a heavy backhand to take control of the break-point rally, and then struck another beautiful backhand to win it. The former World No.1 took the all important service break in the 11th game with a flashing forehand winner down the line and subsequently claimed the opening set as he powered through to a comfortable hold of serve in the ensuing game.
Just like the first set, Federer made his move in the 5th game of the second set. As Federer began to apply pressure on Paire, the man from France started getting frustrated with himself. And at 30-all, a backhand winner gave Federer break-point, which the five-time champion converted with the help of a double fault by Paire.
Even though Paire had a point to break right back in the next game, Federer somehow managed to consolidate the break with the assistance of a stunning backhand, which pulled his opponent wide. The 37-year-old continued with his magic at the net in the following few games before finishing off the set with an ace to take a commanding two set lead in the encounter.
Federer seemed to be in some sort of hurry in the third set as he quickly grabbed the first break of serve in the third game before securing a second break of serve in the fifth game to take a decisive 4-1 lead in the set. But, Federer out of nowhere lost his momentum and handed back one of the breaks to Paire in the next game. Federer though promptly regained his focus to hold his serve, to love in the eighth game before wrapping the match with another service hold in the tenth game.
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