05:00 PM GMT April 16, 2019
When Rafael Nadal was asked to name some of the players to watch during this European clay-court swing, he immediately referenced the #NextGenATP. And from that group, the first player he named was 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“That's a good sign, of course, if he's talking good about me. It's great,” said Auger-Aliassime Tuesday after his first-round win at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. “To start with, that he knows me, that he talks about me, it's just amazing, because I used to watch him playing on TV, and the distance between he and me was so huge that it was just impossible to be able to play or to be around him at a certain point. So this is really amazing.”
Felix has rapidly ascended the ATP Rankings in 2019, reaching the final in Rio de Janeiro and the semi-finals at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Miami to help him climb from 108th to his career-high of 33rd. But the teenager is not taking any of this for granted.
“I have to work hard, to keep on working hard, as I suppose he did when he was my age,” Auger-Aliassime said. “He worked hard. He won titles. Now it's up to me to keep on working.”
Felix’s popularity has continued to increase with every big win he earns. But this is nothing new for the teenager, who broke onto the scene by winning an ATP Challenger Tour match at 14.
“This is not a recent phenomenon, but it is true that this is of a higher scale. I had to adapt to it,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But it's not a big deal. I mean, you just have to remain the same. I just be the same, follow my routine, so this is not really a problem for me.”
Auger-Aliassime will have a chance to earn his biggest victory yet by ATP Ranking on Wednesday when he faces 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev. Felix claimed his first Top 10 win last month in Indian Wells by defeating reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“I think this is a good opportunity. He's the one who's more or less the leader of the new generation of tennis players. It's been a while since he's been around, so he's got lots of experience already,” Auger-Aliassime said of Zverev. “So for me, this is going to be a great opportunity to play against him and to see how I do against him. I believe in my tennis. I am going to try to do my best, and I'm very hopeful that I will adjust my play to his. I'm going to try to dictate the game.”
Zverev is well aware of Felix’s rise, despite being three years older than the Canadian. The World No. 3 expects a tough test in his Monte-Carlo opener.
“He’s been one of the best young guys on Tour this year. He made the semis in Miami, made the final in Rio,” Zverev said. “I’m very happy for him because he’s one of the most humble and nicest guys that I know... he’s still young but when he was just starting and the first few times that everybody saw him on the Tour he was always very polite and always very positive.”
This might be the first FedEx ATP Head2Head match between Auger-Aliassime and Zverev, but it certainly won’t be the last. Felix looks forward to competing against Zverev as well as #NextGenATP stars for years to come.
“Of course this is motivating for one another. It would be stupid to think that we don't need any opponent, because otherwise there is no rivalry, there is no matches. We all need the other one to play high-level tennis,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Each one of us is playing good and we of course want to be winning. At least personally I find this is very motivating. And I will be able to play against Zverev tomorrow, and that's going to be good.”