04:01 PM GMT April 21, 2019
#NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime is taking the ATP Tour by storm. Trips to the Rio de Janeiro final and Miami semi-finals have helped the 18-year-old climb from outside the Top 100 in the ATP Rankings in February into the Top 35.
Many teenagers would be wondering what they could do with the more than $650,000 Felix has earned so far this year. But his father Sam Aliassime, who began playing tennis with him at five, has something else in mind for his son, who is the 16th seed at this week's Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
“My dad messaged me the other day and said ‘I have three pieces of advice: Keep working hard, stay the same person and find a school’,” Auger-Aliassime said. “He wants me to go back to school, so I have to find an online school now. Having these kinds of people around you helps you stay the same person.
“I’m lucky to have great people around me. They’re always saying the right things and helping me do the right work.”
Expectations have followed Auger-Aliassime since he became the youngest player to win an ATP Challenger Tour match at 14. The top players in the sport — including Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev, the man who beat him in the second round at Monte-Carlo — have been touting his abilities. But the only person who has avoided the hype is Felix himself.
“I never expected that I was going to be here this early. That was always my dream and I’m still following it,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Even just a few months ago, I was trying to break into the Top 100 and maybe thinking about Top 50 at the end of the year. [It's great] being in the Top 30, but there was also a lot of work put behind it. I’m just enjoying myself now.”
Felix will try to make his mark at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, an ATP 500 tournament in Spain. He will face German Philipp Kohlschreiber or Tunisian Malek Jaziri in his opening match, and could potentially play fourth seed and two-time champion Kei Nishikori in the third round.
“The draw is so strong that it’s a bit like an [ATP] Masters 1000 event. I would love to get through the first rounds here,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Being seeded for the first time is a bit different and a nice feeling, but I can’t focus too much on results because I don’t have my marks here. It’s a new tournament for me, so I just want to keep competing well and play my game.”
The 6’4” right-hander will take confidence from his recent consistency, winning at least two matches in each of his past four tournaments. Auger-Aliassime claimed his first win against a Top 10 opponent at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where he defeated reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“It helped that I knew him from the juniors. For me to win that first match [against Tsitsipas on the ATP Tour] is important because it was a bit of a statement that we can also win and compete with these top guys,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It gave me confidence, but I’ve played him before, so it wasn’t a big surprise.”
Felix is not looking any further than the match in front of him. But with only 45 points to defend through Roland Garros, Auger-Aliassime has an opportunity to make even more noise.