Theres a feeling that Felix Auger-Aliassime belongs at the top.
The Canadian prodigy may have disrupted the status quo with his six-week surge from outside the top-100 to world No. 33, but there is little to suggest this is a one-off surge in form. Hes here to stay.
He is the only 18-year-old inside the top-150 – Germanys Rudolph Molleker is the only player of the same age inside the top-200 – although that sort of accomplishment is nothing new for one of tennis brightest sparks.
Auger-Aliassime became the first player to win a Challenger match at 14, was the youngest player since Rafael Nadal to crack the top-200 and became the youngest ATP 500-level finalist in history.
So what sets him apart from others his age?
Its funny to say because I think one of the reasons why I grew in the rankings so fast and why everything has gone so fast is because I took my time and I didnt skip steps so its kind of the opposite of going fast, he says at an intimate media gathering in Monte Carlo.
Highest-ranked ATP players 18 or under
33 – Auger-Aliassime (18)
165 – Molleker (18)
311 – Sinnner (17)
425 – Tseng (17)
444 – Cornut-Chauvinc (18)
484 – Musetti (17)
Doing everything in the right order, not burning any steps since Ive been a kid. Thats been the key to me growing in the sport so fast because I felt like every step of the way I was comfortable in what I was doing and felt I was right at my place.
Ive never really compared to what other players have done before or what others players my age were doing because we hear all the time “okay, hes done this at 14, 15, 16” – I was just “okay, if Im playing at this level it means I deserve to be here and Ive worked for it”. The main key to being where I am today is being true to myself and taking it step by step.
Staying true to himself appears important to the well-mannered teenager.
Calm, articulate and at ease with a bombardment of questions – in French and English, both of which he speaks fluently – there seems little doubt that he will be able to cope with the bright glare of the ever-increasing spotlight.
It hasnt been too difficult, he adds. Along the way Ive been able to stay the same person. Thats what I want to keep on doing. Everything I do is not worth it if I dont stay the same to my people, to my coaches.
The main thing that is changing is the way people see you from the outside. I think thats the part that I dont like.
It feels funny to be in your own city and be recognised everywhere you go. Not all the time, obviously, but when it happens, maybe I dont feel comfortable with it yet.
Its not a big deal because I think when Im in TV interviews Im staying the same person so its not like I have to put on another mask or a double face so it hasnt been too challenging for me.
The youngest of of an exciting crop of Canadians – along with fellow youngsters Denis Shapovalov and Bianca Andreescu – Auger-Aliassime refuses to put limits on himself but confessed he is well ahead of schedule in 2019, having made a spot in the top-100 and regular appearances in the main draws of the Grand Slams his main priorities.
Now, just outside the top-30, the landscape has surely changed. But Auger-Aliassime feels he has already learnt the hard way that results are not the be all and end all at this early stage of his career.
I never put myself any limits. I like to go as high as I can, as far as I could, he says.
Last year I was injured at the start of the year, I did a mistake, I wanted to win before improving and before working on my game and before playing the game and I think that cost me. Until the French Open last year I was kind of not in the right place mentally. I was too much looking for the results and comparing myself too much.
And I think this year, I started the year thinking Ill see where my ranking goes. Obviously I wanted to crack the top-100 and be in the main draw of Slams but I was just more thinking about how I wanted to play, how I wanted to improve and thats been the key for me since last year, being really focused on the work every day, on the process.