Ris­ing Canuck’s big state­ment

Mon­treal teen rub­bing shoul­ders with the greats

Metro Canada (Ottawa) - - Special Report: Ottawa 2017 -

Canada’s Felix Auger-alias­sime launched him­self into il­lus­tri­ous com­pany when he won the Open de So­pra Ste­ria in Lyon, France on Sun­day.

At 16 years and 10 months, the Mon­trealer be­came the sev­enth youngest tennis player in his­tory to win an ATP Chal­lenger ti­tle, sand­wiched be­tween Rafael Nadal at No. 6 and No­vak Djokovic at eighth.

The star-stud­ded com­pany had the well-spo­ken teen feel­ing “quite proud’’ on Mon­day. But bet­ter yet, the mo­men­tous ac­com­plish­ment shows he’s clearly on the proper path.

“I re­ally see it as mo­ti­va­tion, and a sign that I’m do­ing the right things,’’ Auger-alias­sime said on a con­fer­ence call. “And af­ter all it’s just stay­ing me, I want to be a unique player, I want to be as good as I can be, I want to be the best ver­sion of me, so that’s what it’s all about. But ob­vi­ously it’s re­ally en­cour­ag­ing.’’

Auger-alias­sime de­feated world No. 171 Mathias Bourge of France 6-4, 6-1 in the fi­nal to be­come the youngest Chal­lenger win­ner in eight years, and send his world rank­ing sky­rock­et­ing up 105 places to No. 231. He’s the youngest player to crack the Top 250 since Juan Martin del Potro in 2005.

“Ev­ery tour­na­ment I play, I al­ways be­lieve in my chances,” Auger-alias­sime said. “I didn’t feel like my level was far from these guys, and I think I proved it match af­ter match. It was a tough start of the tour­na­ment, win­ning my first three matches in three sets, (but) what I think what I did great in this tour­na­ment I fought well men­tally, I stayed pos­i­tive on ev­ery mo­ment of ev­ery match, and at the end of the week it paid off be­cause I played my best tennis.’’

Last Septem­ber, the hard-hit­ting and ath­letic Auger-alias­sime cap­tured the U.S. Open boys ti­tle, dis­patch­ing Serbia’s Miomir Kec­manovic in a mere 57 min­utes. That vic­tory was a turn- ing point as the six-foot-three player and his coach Guillaume Marx de­cided to step on the ac­cel­er­a­tor, mak­ing the move from boys to men, and com­mit­ting to the ATP Chal­lenger Tour.

“We de­cided to give my­self a chance to play more and more pro events, and this year I keep on con­firm­ing I’m at the right place, I’m able to play at a high level with the guys in Fu­tures (the third rung of the men’s pro­fes­sional tennis lad­der), and now I’m at the Chal­lenger level, I think play­ing more and more tour­na­ments of this level got me used to it,’’ Auger-alias­sime said.

“There was an adap­ta­tion to do, it took a lit­tle bit of time, but prob­a­bly shorter than I thought.’’

Auger-alias­sime was the third Cana­dian to win a Chal­lenger Tour ti­tle this sea­son. De­nis Shapo­valov — who teamed up with Auger-alias­sime to win the boys dou­bles ti­tle at the 2015 U.S. Open, the first Cana­dian ju­nior Grand Slam dou­ble ti­tle in 25 years — won the Drum­mondville Na­tional Bank Chal­lenger in March. Vasek Pospisil cap­tured the Bu­san Chal­lenger last month.

Auger-alias­sime said it was a tough ad­just­ing to high-level com­pe­ti­tion in the main draws of Chal­lengers week in and week out, but he’s adapt­ing nicely.

“I got more used to the level of these guys. And now I think this week it re­ally paid off,” he said. “It was re­ally tough men­tally, it was tough phys­i­cally also, I was push­ing my­self to the lim­its al­most ev­ery match. But at the end of the week I found the lit­tle edge to get over these guys.’’

I want to be a unique player, I want to be as good as I can be, I want to be the best ver­sion

of me, so that’s what it’s all about.

Felix Auger-alias­sime

BEN CURTIS THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Felix Auger-alias­sime at last year’s Wim­ble­don ju­nior tour­na­ment in Lon­don.

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