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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Former Rival And Top 10 Star Names Novak Djokovic The Greatest Of All Time

The two-time US Open quarter-finalist has issued his opinion on the Big Three of tennis.

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There is no easy way to establish the greatest men’s tennis player of all time, but according to Janko Tipsarevic it is his fellow compatriot.

 

Tipsarevic, who retired from the tour earlier this year, has named Novak Djokovic as the best player of all time based on his own experiences against the prestigious Big Three. A group that also features Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Djokovic is a 16-time grand slam champion who has won more prize money than any other player in the history of the sport (over $139 million). He has also achieved the year-end No.1 spot five times so far in his career.

“I played against everybody, I know who plays them when they are the best version of themselves and, with all due respect to Nadal and Federer … I know that I view this subjectively, but Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player of all time.” Tipsarevic said during an interview with Telegraf.rs.

Interestingly Djokovic is the only member of the trio Tipsarevic has beaten on the tour. Doing so at the 2011 ATP Finals and 2012 Madrid Masters. He lost all three of his meetings with Nadal and six times to Federer.

Others may argue against the 35-year-old by saying Djokovic is yet to win more grand slam titles than the other two players. However, he is the youngest of them all. Tipsarevic believes that it is only a matter of time before Djokovic breaks more records in the sport. Emulating similar comments that have been made by Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

“Novak is the best tennis player of all time.” He stated.
“It’s very important that people look at the statistics for these ten years: who did what, who won the most tournaments.”
“I think when it is all over the next three or four years, Novak will statistically outperform the two and be internationally recognized as the best,” he later added.

Despite recently retiring, Tipsarevic will still be seen on the tour in 2020 in a new role. He has been appointed as the new coach for world No.40 Filip Krajinović.

How the Big Three compare

Rafael Nadal

Novak Djokovic

Roger Federer

Age

33

32

38

Grand Slam titles*

19

16

20

Total titles*

84

77

103

Top 10 wins

171

205

224

Prize money earnings 

    $119,601,561

    $139,144,944

        $129,231,891

*ATP tournaments and grand slams only 

 

 

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Editorial

2019 US Open: A common road led by contrasting routes for Dominik Koepfer and Hyeon Chung

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Hyeon Chung, 2019 US Open
Photo Credit: Tata Open Maharashtra/Twitter

Amid the huddle of early-round exits and some scattered withdrawals, a couple of players made the most of opportunities they received at the 2019 US Open. Dominik Koepfer and Hyeon Chung came through the qualifying rounds to win their initial couple of rounds with conviction and make their way forward even as rest of the playing field blew open around them.

 

Being qualifiers is the denominator common to them this week. Yet, in a way, the 23-year-old Chung is trudging a familiar route as compared with the 25-year-old Koepfer who is a relative newer face to watch at the Slams.

In 2018, Chung had made it to his first semi-final at a Major – at the Australian Open – taking down then six-time champion Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. The 2017 Next Gen ATP Finals’ titlist reached a career-high of 19 in the world after his Australian Open jaunt in 2018. Koepfer, on the other hand, is yet to break into the top-100 – with a career-high of no. 113 attained in the second-week of August. His best result at the Majors – before his fourth-round appearance at the US Open – was reaching the second round at Wimbledon this year.

None of these differences in the respective roads they have travelled on the Tour mattered as they tried to make it to the main draw. Chung’s injuries that kept him away from the circuit (for almost five months this year) meant he had to start from scratch, at the Challenger level. Koepfer’s being a mainstay on the Challenger circuit – for now – meant he, too, would start from the same position.

In doing so, the sport has made levellers out of them. Their past results do not matter. It is how they do against the opponent of the day that matters. Three qualifying rounds followed by the sterner main-draw test that also comes by way of lengthier matches. In this regard, Chung has already faced two such difficult matches in his first two rounds this week against Ernesto Escobedo and Fernando Verdasco in which he had to play five-setters to extricate himself.

The draw’s narrowing has also meant the task ahead of them has gotten harder. This is also where their paths diverge once again. If Tulane University alumnus in Koepfer is the equivalent of a dark horse, Chung’s previous experience makes him a dangerous floater.

If the two end up being truthful to this tag of theirs, the chaos component at this year’s US Open will be the accentuation separating itself from the monotonous.

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Editorial

2019 US Open, And The Growth In The Divide Between Players And Officials

The 2019 US Open has barely begun but off-court news surrounding the sport’s refereeing officials have reverberated more than the on-court results.

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Nick Kyrgios, Steve Johnson, 2019 US Open
Photo Credit: Andrew Ong/USTA

Argentinian chair umpire Damian Steiner was removed by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for giving interviews without consulting the ATP about accepting those. Among the players, Nick Kyrgios and Serena Williams continued with their less-than-respectful behaviour. Kyrgios towards the ATP which docked him $113,000 in fines for his rants against Fergus Murphy in Cincinnati. And, Williams towards Carlos Ramos, who umpired her 2018 US Open final against Naomi Osaka.

 

These incidents are revealing of the dichotomy spanning the players and the officials’ positions. Let us look at the players’ side of this chasm first. Kyrgios’ had no remorse about his behaviour against Murphy. Neither was he upset about being fined. Nonetheless, he attempted to duck from his mistakes by blaming the ATP for the penalty.

“Not at all. The ATP is pretty corrupt anyway, so I’m not fussed about it at all,” Kyrgios replied to a question about the fine in his post-match press conference. He, then, turned into a quasi-interrogator as if perplexed by the question, and the fine. His rhetorical question was, “I got fined 113K for what? Why are we talking about something that happened three weeks ago when I just chopped up someone first round?”

Kyrgios’ lackadaisical approach towards rectifying his errors was infuriating. But perhaps not to the same level as the exasperation evoked by Williams’ words, in her press conference.

After her first-round win over Maria Sharapova, Williams, in response to a question about Ramos not umpiring her matches at the event this year, chose to be snarky instead of giving a straight answer. “Yeah, I don’t know who that is,” she stated impassively as though the person and the events of the previous year did not concern or involve her.

Now, imagine a scenario in which either Murphy or Ramos, or both wanted to speak up and finally decide to share their vexations about receiving such attitude from the players in an interview. They cannot even do that without seeking permission from the sport’s governing authorities. Moreover, a message was sent in making an example out of Steiner that umpires did not have the backing of their job if they decided to forgo the rules.

The game’s viewers may take it as in indication that tennis’ rules belonged to the “never to be broken” category. However, this move will only embolden the players to be more abrasive and impolite to the umpires. Instead of looking at them as maintainers of the game for the duration of the match.

Case in point: Stefanos Tsitsipas’ ranting at Damien Dumussois when the Frenchman asked him to quicken his time at change of ends. “You have something against me. You’re French, probably. … You’re all weirdos,” he went on, insulting not only the umpire but also his nationality, and his countrymen.

Undoubtedly, it was said in momentary anger because of how the match was turning against him. Yet, if the rules are to be so correctly enforced – and they were in this instance, in Dumussois asking the eighth-seed to speed up – players ought not to complain.

However, grievances – actual and perceived – are bound to come up. As such, sanctioning players with fines (and even suspension) for raging at the umpires is a stop-gap remedy. Players will not – and did not – hesitate to fulfil the terms of their punishment. They will also continue with their tirades, as and when things do not go their way in a match.

On the other hand, for the umpires, this is like a repetitive cycle of viciousness. Tennis’ managerial authorities need to incorporate a system in which the umpires get to openly communicate about the players’ misconduct without being isolated, and treated as the sport’s second-rung members.

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