Auger-Aliassime adding consistency as Canadian men break new ground
Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov have already made history for Canada in Melbourne, Now they’re bidding for a place in the Australian Open semi-finals
When Denis Shapovalov broke through on the ATP Tour with a flash of dazzling forehands and leaping backhands, he was quick to alert everyone to the fact that he was not the only Canadian coming up fast through the ranks.
That, of course, was Felix Auger-Aliassime. And that was then; this is now. The 21-year-old’s 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over Marin Cilic on Monday sent him into the quarter-finals of the Australian for the first time.
With Shapovalov, who plays Rafael Nadal on Tuesday, also through, Canada has two men in the quarters for the first time and Auger-Aliassime said having company is helping as he chases his first slam title.
“We’re motivating each other,” ninth seed Auger-Aliassime said. “Not directly but just knowing that, you know, he’s doing great and I back it up and win a match myself. I think it’s better for us than if, let’s say, one of us was not there. I think it also spreads the pressure a little bit, you know, to have the two of us. There is also Milos (Raonic) and Vasek (Pospisil) and other players. So it’s great to have countrymen that’s doing well at the same time as you. We live amazing moments in team events as well, so I think that wouldn’t happen if there was only one of us. We keep a good relationship but at the same time we really push each other in a good way.”
Canadians starting to become regular major performers
Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov joined forces to help Canada to win the ATP Cup at the start of the year and the two men have carried that form through to the Australian Open, where they are each into the last eight for the first time, Shapovalov taking out third seed Alexander Zverev in straight sets to set up a crack at Nadal.
For all their talent, it’s taken time for both men to come through, to add consistency to their obvious talent. Shapovalov reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2021 and Auger-Aliassime matched him by making the same stage of the US Open.
A year younger than Shapovalov, Auger-Aliassime is starting to become a major performer. This will be his third slam quarter-final in a row. “I didn’t expect to find that consistency so soon in the slams,” he told BBC Radio on Monday, before expanding on his improvement when asked by reporters later.
“I know it might be boring but I really take it day by day,” he said. “Of course I come now into slams knowing I have done in the past, my goal is to go far. But the first match comes around and you play a tough opponent, you know, you play somebody who is trying to beat you and you have to find a way to win.
“I was down two sets to one in the first match, so at the time I was just trying to get through that one and then again and again. You kind of just repeat that. I think knowing also in the back of my mind that I have the stamina, the mentality to last in matches and tournaments, of course it helps me to know that, you know, I can go deep in these type of tournaments.”
Boost for Canadian tennis and country as a whole
Auger-Aliassime said what he and Shapovalov are doing is good for Canadian tennis.
“I’m just glad that we have been able to be consistent,” he said. “It’s a great showing for Canada. I mean, with the win also at the ATP Cup and moving on here, both of us being in the quarter-finals for the first time in Canadian history, it’s a great achievement for both of us.
“At the end, again, I hope it gives the idea, you know, people back home that this is possible. I mean, we have done it. I truly believe that other Canadians can do that, as well, even though we’re not originally a country of tennis, I think now we really are. We have shown that over and over again.”
Shapovalov said he hoped their runs were giving Canadian people something to be happy about after a long lockdown due to Covid-19.
“It’s not a super-easy time in Canada right now so hopefully it’s just shedding a little bit of light and, you know, hopefully people have something to watch and to cheer for and to follow,” he said. “It’s great to be doing it alongside a guy like Felix who’s obviously a remarkable player, as well, and we’ve come up from the juniors together. It’s a pretty special story I think to share with him. Obviously it would be amazing if…we can just keep going like this.”
Auger-Aliassime on Medvedev: I need to play a great match
If they are to extend their runs, though, both men will have to produce another huge win. Shapovalov takes on Rafael Nadal while Auger-Aliassime will meet world No 2 Daniil Medvedev. The Russian has won both their meetings but Auger-Aliassime says he’s ready.
“The first time we played was a while ago,” he said. “We are both very different players, but the last two times, one was last week or two weeks ago, and US Open, yeah, I need to try to change things up. I have nothing to lose, and to try and to do something differently or to try and, you know, just first, you know, to play good and then to dig deep.
“I can try to mix up things as much as I want. The reality is he’s the best player almost in the world now. He’s the champion here (with no Novak Djokovic in the field). I need to play a great match. I need to be able to give a great effort both mentally and physically to go through.”