08:45 PM GMT May 20, 2020
Felix Auger-Aliassime, the Canadian #NextGenATP star, is from Montreal. But early in his career, the 19-year-old has found himself at home in Lyon.
Last year, Auger-Aliassime arrived at the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon searching for form. After making the semi-finals in Miami, the Canadian didn’t win consecutive matches in four straight tournaments.
“Lyon is special for me,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Every time I come here, I feel like I’m at home.”
That’s because Auger-Aliassime won the Lyon Challenger in 2017 and 2018. In 2017, at just 16 years and 10 months, he became the eighth-youngest titlist in ATP Challenger Tour history. By retaining the trophy the following year, Felix became the youngest player in history to successfully defend a Challenger crown.
Auger-Aliassime’s love affair with Lyon showed from the start of the 2019 Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon. Felix, who was World No. 28 at the time, was the youngest Top 30 player since Lleyton Hewitt in 1999. He got his tournament off to a strong start by beating scrappy Aussie veteran John Millman 7-6(3), 7-5.
In the quarter-finals, the 18-year-old battled past experienced American Steve Johnson 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, to set a semi-final showdown against powerful Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili. Felix found his back against the wall in that match, as Basilashvili was up a set and held a 0/40 advantage on the Canadian’s serve at 4-4 in the second set.
Auger-Aliassime hit a gutsy forehand winner at 15/40, and defended his second serve well at 30/40 to hang on, before finding some of his best tennis to eliminate Basilashvili 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4.
“I stayed pretty calm compared to yesterday [against Johnson]. I think I adjusted that pretty well. I think if I got too frustrated, I probably would have lost in two sets,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Probably wouldn’t have saved those break points at 4-all. That’s a key for me. That’s been a turning point this year, and obviously in this tournament, to be able to get over any mistakes, to keep on playing.”
In February 2019, Auger-Aliassime made his first ATP Tour final at the Rio Open presented by Claro. Now, he had another chance at tour-level glory.
“I came here because I thought maybe something good could happen. I felt good two years in a row in this city, and here I am in the final,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I can’t ask for anything better. It was tough matches throughout the week, but I think I’ve been able to get through every time against tough opponents.”
Auger-Aliassime wasn’t 100 per cent physically in the final against Benoit Paire, experiencing groin pain. The Frenchman beat him for the Lyon title 6-4, 6-3, and that pain ended up forcing Felix to withdraw from Roland Garros. But nevertheless, Auger-Aliassime was happy that for the third consecutive year, he was able to find some of his best form in Lyon.
"I had a good week even though it didn’t end the way I wanted, not playing the way I wanted or being physically well," Auger-Aliassime said. "There’s disappointment because these finals don’t come around often but there’s a lot of positives to take from that week. Hopefully I give myself other chances for titles.”