After Wimbledon, I wrote that Felix Auger-Aliassime should not be considered a disappointment at the All England Club, despite his third-round loss to Ugo Humbert.
Everyone was anticipating a possible fourth-round meeting with Novak Djokovic, the kind of “king versus future king” matchup tennis fans and journalists love. (A good example of that from 2019: Stefanos Tsitsipas meeting Roger Federer in the fourth round of the Australian Open, with the boy beating the icon, much as Federer beat Greek-American Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, 18 years earlier.)
I made the point about Felix that many people WOULD in fact view his Wimbledon as a disappointment… and that we should resist the temptation to view his tournament as such.
Am I managing Felix Auger-Aliassime’s expectations after the conclusion of Felix’s 2019 Rogers Cup campaign on Thursday in Montreal? You’re damn right I am… but this is not a politically savvy attempt to manipulate public opinion, much as political candidates’ campaigns try to lower expectations before a big debate so that a comparatively modest performance will seem like a massive victory.
No, I am not trying to privately carry high expectations toward Felix but publicly suggest you shouldn’t have them. That’s a con game, and that’s not what is going on here.
I am not attempting to be Machiavellian. It’s much simpler than that.
We can all see the potent symbolism embodied in this fact below:
Happy Birthday Roger Federer (38) and Félix Auger-Aliassime (19)!
— TENNIS (@Tennis) August 8, 2019
Felix is already such a respected sportsman in Canada and on the ATP Tour. He is a player everyone likes. He is very young, and yet one can plainly see that he could become something special.
Yeah, it sounds quite familiar, shared by another person born on August 8.
The point to remember about Roger Federer, though, is that after he beat Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001, he needed two whole years to learn how to fully assemble his game. The complete player who would dismantle men’s tennis for the next six and a half years did not exist until the end of 2003, at age 22.
Novak Djokovic really hadn’t figured it all out until he was 23 and a half years old, at the end of 2010.
These processes generally take time. Rafael Nadal winning Roland Garros near his 19th birthday and making his first Wimbledon final just after turning 20 is not the norm.
Could Felix — in the midst of a productive and forward-moving 2019 season — take a significant forward leap next year and win a major? Yes, he could. I wouldn’t rule that out.
Yet, there’s a Grand Canyon-level gulf between “That’s within the realm of possibility” and “He should be expected to do that.”
What Felix Auger-Aliassime had to say after his Rogers Cup ended in three sets to Karen Khachanov — https://t.co/qhnZwcp7q0
— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) August 8, 2019
The Big 3 have made it hard to remember the eras which preceded them — you know, eras in which we didn’t expect the three best players in the world to win 15 or more major titles.
Felix Auger-Aliassime leaves the Rogers Cup — after his loss to Karen Khachanov — with a modestly productive tournament and the learning experience of having lost a match in which he led by a set and a break. A NORMAL CAREER involves accumulating these body blows and stinging punches over multiple years before translating into elite, top-tier success.
A NORMAL CAREER doesn’t involve appearances in all four major semifinals and two or three major finals per year, for nearly every year, over a decade.
Athletes should generally be EXPECTED to do something (which is different from HOPING they will do something) when they have proved how well they can perform at the highest level of competition AND have been through a situation enough times to genuinely know how to cope with all the complexities of that situation.
Felix Auger-Aliassime isn’t there yet. Not even close. We will know if he reaches that point of experience and understanding. We will know when Felix arrives at a time or place in his career when he ought to figure it out.
Right now, though, is the figuring-out process.
It will take space and time.
Let’s give that to Felix, shall we?