Felix Auger-Aliassime could hardly have dreamed up a better atmosphere for his 19th birthday. The teenager was playing on Court Central at his hometown ATP Masters 1000 tournament, the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, with fans shouting, “Let’s go, Fe-lix!”
“I never heard a stadium yell like this, sound like this, an atmosphere like this. It was incredible. At the changeover at 6-all, I could see the people there. I was raising my fist, and I felt energy coming up my legs. It was the first time I ever felt that. It was incredible,” he said.
The #NextGenATP Canadian led by a set and a break against World No. 8 Karen Khachanov and had the finish line within sight, which was the problem. The 19-year-old peered ahead just a little bit and never recovered as Khachanov came back to advance 6-7(7), 7-5, 6-3 and make the quarter-finals.
“When there’s a lot on the line, when you see the finish line, the nerves get to you. That’s part of my journey,” said Auger-Aliassime, who was trying to reach his second Masters 1000 quarter-final (Miami 2019). “It just means that I still have things to improve to win these types of matches and to deal better with these types of moments.”
Both players struggled with the wind and their nerves, but it was the 23-year-old Khachanov who found a way to settle down. Auger-Aliassime particularly struggled with his serve, hitting 12 double faults to 10 aces.
“For sure I’m facing difficulties on my second serve. I have to face it. It’s like you. You face difficulties in your work. I face difficulties in mine. What do you do? You go back to work, and you try to do better next time,” Auger-Aliassime said.
The teenager had never before faced an environment or a tournament like the Coupe Rogers in Montreal. He played in the Canadian Masters 1000 event in 2016 in Toronto, losing in the first round of qualifying, and last year in Toronto, falling in the second round.
“It’s good that I broke the ice, so to speak. But now it’s over. I can say the pressure was enormous. I can’t hide that. Everybody talks about it. It’s a big tournament for me. At the end I want to play well, I don’t want to be disappointed. There’s a lot of pressure,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“But I learned a lot this week. I learned how to know myself better. I think it’s good for the rest of the season and for the following years. I had a good week here.
“It went beyond any expectations I had. What I received was incredible. I’m young but I never felt that before. I really want to thank everybody. It was very touching. It was incredible. I’ll remember that for all my life.”