The National Bank Open, formerly Rogers Cup

Frédéric Fontang breaks down Félix Auger-Aliassime’s hot start to 2022

February 4, 2022
Félix Auger-Aliassime raises his arms in celebration.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

For several years now, Félix Auger-Aliassime has been in the ascendancy on the ATP Tour.

His ranking has consistently risen since turning pro in 2017, and is currently at a career-high of No. 9, and his results have steadily improved, culminating in a current run of three consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals, the most recent of which came recently at the Australian Open.

The Canadian has had a phenomenal start to 2022, first leading his country to a title at the ATP Cup before reaching the last eight in Melbourne. At one point, he was in first in the ATP Race to Turin and currently sits fifth.

One might think that Auger-Aliassime spent his offseason doing nothing but hitting balls from sunrise to sunset every day in order to get ready, but according to his coach, Frédéric Fontang, rest may have been the key to this strong start.

“It was very good for him to have a real break after a really great season where he reached the Top 10 for the first time and had good results at the Grand Slam,” explained Fontang, who revealed that Auger-Aliassime took three week off at the end of the 2021 season. “He was very consistent at the Grand Slams and Masters 1000 tournaments so having this break was really good.”

“Even if it is hard for him to cut back on the amount of tennis for Félix, it was smart because while he is still young, he has to be careful to listen to his body for longevity. That is very important.”

That time was not just for recovering physically either. “He spent time with family, which was really important for recharging emotionally.”

Once Auger-Aliassime returned to competition at the ATP Cup, it was immediately clear that his offseason recovery regimen was well spent.

The Canadian team had a tough start against the United States, but quickly bounced back, led by Auger-Aliassime.

Fontang liked what he saw, saying “[Denis Shapovalov] and Félix were able to push each other to a very high level which was wonderful to see with some great performances on court. The win against [world No. 3 Alexander] Zverev gave him confidence so he was able to play a great final against [Roberto] Bautista Agut. He was able to make progress on one of his goals this year which is to play at a more consistent level. Even if Félix is still an attacking player, he wants to be able to rally well with the defensive players, the solid players.”

There was some major foreshadowing at the ATP Cup too, as the one blip on an otherwise stellar tournament came in the semi-finals against an opponent who the Canadian might be getting a little too familiar with.

“It was a bit complicated against [Daniil] Medvedev at the ATP Cup,” Fontang said. “We discussed trying to be more proactive and, as we saw in the last match in Australia, he had the tools and the tactics to hang with him.”

Auger-Aliassime bounced back from a straight-sets loss to clinch the title for Canada with a straight-sets wins over Bautista Agut. Fontang described the ATP Cup as “the best possible start [to the season].”

Like the ATP Cup, Auger-Aliassime got off to a slow start in Melbourne.

As a Top 10 seed, “Félix is in a new position because he is going to face more opponents who will let loose, will try like he does when he plays better players, and will play more freely,” explained Fontang, who described Auger-Aliassime’s first two opponents as “two very dangerous players with very challenging styles for Félix who are very solid, capable of countering Félix’s aggression. Consistent players.”

However, the Canadian was up for the challenge, which may have proved beneficial.

“It felt really good that he was able to find a way to win despite not playing very well against players who were really going for their shots. He managed to overcome these two obstacles with a visibly calm mindset, without panicking, by staying solid and that allowed him to get through these two matches and play a tactically perfect match against Dan Evans,” said Fontang.

Again, the coach was happy with what he was seeing from his young charge. “He recovered well which showed that the work he’d put in paid off, the physical preparation, the recovery. And then he had the match against Cilic, against whom he had lost three times in a row, he was able to find the right tactical strategies and the mental strength in the big moments. So he passed these tests and that was good for his confidence. It was good for his experience.”

The Australian Open did come to a disappointing end for Auger-Aliassime, who lost a heart-breaking five-set quarter-final to Medvedev from two sets and match point up.

However, this defeat was not without silver linings, which Fontang was quick to point out.

“Even in defeat, there were a lot of positives and he felt that so that’s why we were able to move on quickly,” said the coach. “Medvedev is a very tough player to beat, and there were a lot of positives when it came to the plan and the tactics. [Félix] showed all of his abilities on the court, as an attacker but also his variety, his ability to come forward, his patience.”

“It’s a marathon. The matches are sprints during a three-week marathon. And it’s even more experience for Félix and that’s very positive.”

The key now for Auger-Aliassime is to keep his momentum going forward into the rest of 2022. He is off to a great start, but he still wants more.

“He finished 2021 at No. 11 so he wants to end this year inside the Top 10 and to qualify for the ATP Finals, that’s the goal. Of course to win his first title. Those are the major goals,” said Fontang. “But it’s to develop his game, to develop his strength and fitness, continue to mature and gain experience and to take these experiences and to continue to develop overall as a tennis player. To achieve these goals, he has to play well in the important matches, in the Grand Slams, in the Masters 1000s, so he has to be well prepared, be it physically, mentally, tennis-wise.”

“[Félix] realizes that for him, it’s no longer just potential, it’s reality and there are still obstacles to be navigated, but these are things that are much clearer to him.” 

“Right now at his level, at every round of a tournament, he expects to win.” 

Next up for Auger-Aliassime is the ATP 500 event in Rotterdam followed by tournaments in Marseille and Dubai. He will then come back for the North American hard-court swing in Indian Wells in Miami.

This summer, the Montrealer is excited to play in front of his home fans at the Omnium Banque Nationale, his second time playing at the event in his home town.

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