When the ATP Tour visited Montreal for the Rogers Cup, I wrote about the need to give Felix Auger-Aliassime more space and time to grow.
Surely I won’t change my tune now, even though Felix clearly regressed from Montreal and played a noticeably less competitive match against Denis Shapovalov, who beat him in round one at the U.S. Open for the second straight year.
What? Did you think a first-round loss to a player who had been struggling this year — even though it was his very good friend and fellow Canadian — would cause me to rethink my position on this topic?
Nope. We’re not remotely close to a point in time when we have to worry about Felix.
Reality check: He is 19.
Reality check No. 2: Older, more accomplished players in his general age cohort — such as 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas — are also struggling.
Reality check No. 3: Players who are several years older than Felix — 23-year-old Karen Khachanov, 25-year-old Dominic Thiem, 31-year-old Roberto Bautista-Agut — lost in the first round of the U.S. Open.
The reality of non-Big 3 players losing early in majors and not gaining traction at the year’s most important tournaments is pervasive. Very few players outside the Big 3 demonstrate any consistency. (One notable exception this year: Kei Nishikori, who has made three major quarterfinals and will try to go 4 for 4 this week in New York. He is two wins away, currently in the third round.)
Let’s not hold a 19-year-old to the same standards of players four or six or 12 years older. Let’s not even hold him to the same standards as 21-year-old Tsitsipas or 23-year-old Khachanov (who beat him in Montreal).
Do we realize that Felix’s career is STILL ahead of schedule?
Entering Wimbledon, he was a legitimate threat to make the ATP Finals in London, the eight-player year-end championship based on rankings points accumulated solely within the 2019 season. (The overall tennis rankings are based not on points accumulated within the calendar year season, but in the past 12 months, in a continuing cycle.)
Sure, Felix won’t make London now, but the mere fact that he was within striking distance in July, before turning 19, is remarkable.
So what if Felix lost to Shapovalov? Hardly anyone in tennis would contest the notion that Felix has a much higher ceiling and a far brighter future. Felix is younger than Shapovalov, and is only beginning to taste what Shapo has absorbed for most of the past 18 months: namely, the ATP Tour punching back, giving him more attention, developing better scouting reports, and exposing his weaknesses.
Felix was going to go through this process at some point. His tremendously successful first six months of 2019 were not going to represent the norm for the next 12 to 18 months. No, the tour was going to kick him in the teeth. Now it is happening.
There is only one other note to emphasize: Felix is running into a wall after playing a lot of tennis in the first half of 2019.
Remember, he loaded up on South American clay (an off-road swing, so to speak; that detour in February is not what most top pros play. Usually the pros rest in February, and if they do play at all, they play only one tournament before Indian Wells in March. Felix played multiple February tournaments.)
Felix, much like Tsitsipas, is gassed and running on empty — mentally as much as physically if not more so.
This is all entirely normal.
There is ZERO cause for concern. The 2019 season for Felix is now winding down. He won’t make London in November, so the Paris indoor (Bercy) Masters will be his last event of the year. He will have two months in which to rest and reassess.
Check back here in August of 2020. Then we can truly revisit the question of whether Felix has any reason to be concerned about his career.
Not now — not even close.