Felix Auger-Aliassime, of Canada, returns a shot to Dominic Thiem, of Austria, during the fourth round of the US Open tennis championships in New York on September 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Seth Wenig

A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

A steady if unspectacular season comes to a close for Canada’s Auger-Aliassime

Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime started the year at No. 21 in the world rankings and finished the season in the same position. His 2020 campaign was steady if unspectacular as growth in some areas was stymied by an inability to take the next step on the ATP Tour.

While the missed opportunities may sting, the Montreal native, who turned 20 in August, has time on his side. Auger-Aliassime was a middling 23-19 this year and remained stalled in his pursuit of a singles breakthrough, going 0-3 in finals for the second straight year.

“There were things that I would have liked to have done better, have more success in some tournaments, but that’s it,” he said Monday. “But in general, I still look on the bright side of things.

“In a year like this, to have been able to do what I did, it’s positive.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic creating a jumbled and limited calendar, Auger-Aliassime remained quite active as he gained valuable reps in his fourth season as a pro.

His shotmaking ability, power, speed and finesse are all evident when he takes to the court. Youth is obviously on his side too.

But cracking that upper echelon on tour can be one of the toughest hurdles for a young player to clear.

While Auger-Aliassime did earn his first career tour doubles title with Hubert Hurkacz, he didn’t win a set in three singles final appearances and was 1-6 overall against top-20 opponents.

“In a year like this, to reach three finals, to win a doubles title, a big title in Paris, and then reaching the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time at the U.S. Open, it’s a positive thing,” he said. “Of course there were good things, ups and downs, but in the end I (view it as a) positive (for) this year.

“Most importantly I think of how I’ve kept on evolving my game, (myself) and my maturity over this year.”

Changes have already been made on the coaching front.

Auger-Aliassime, who lost opening matches in his last three singles tournaments, recently parted ways with longtime coach Guillaume Marx.

He’s looking for a replacement who has worked with Grand Slam champions and top-five players. No timeline is in place but the plan is for a mentor to work alongside main coach Fred Fontang.

Auger-Aliassime will resume training next month at the Rafael Nadal Academy in Spain before heading to Australia in the New Year. He feels playing more doubles has improved his overall game, especially his net play.

“I think that’s obviously where I want to bring my game as an attacking player and powerful player … I want to keep on bringing it with a high consistency,” he said on a video call with reporters.

Auger-Aliassime emerged as one of the tour’s top young talents last season when he reached finals in Stuttgart, Lyon and Rio.

Ranked outside the top 100 at the start of the year, he reached a career high No. 17 in October 2019.

Last February, he dispatched three top-40 players before falling to ninth-ranked Gael Monfils in the Rotterdam final. He reached the Marseille final a week later but lost to sixth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Along with Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil, Auger-Aliassime was one of three Canadians to reach the men’s round of 16 at the U.S. Open — a Canadian first at a Grand Slam — before falling to third-ranked Dominic Thiem.

In Cologne last month, Auger-Aliassime lost to another top-10 player in No. 7 Alexander Zverev in the final.

That singles crown may be elusive for now but there’s still much to like as he aims to reach that next tier.

Auger-Aliassime became the youngest player to reach five tour-level finals since Rafael Nadal did it in 2005 as an 18-year-old. The Canadian is one of the headliners on a list of rising tour stars that includes Tsitsipas, Shapovalov, Jannik Sinner, Alex de Minaur, Casper Ruud and others.

“I think I’m able to look at the bigger picture more and more,” Auger-Aliassime said from Montreal. “That’s where I feel like I’ve matured. I think this year has taught us there are things that are not under our control. We have to leave that to the side and focus on what we really can control.

“That’s one thing that I feel like a year like this has taught me.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

Tennis

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