Photo : @USOpen
There has never been any question about Félix Auger-Aliassime’s skill with a tennis racket and sky-high potential. But that only made each loss in a final more and more inexplicable.
Those concerns can now be put to bed as the young Canadian at long last was able to bring his best tennis to the biggest stage, ending a drought that had threatened to define his career.
With that monkey off his back, the only question is how many more trophies is he going to collect, and how much bigger will they get.
Here’s what you need to know.
In Case You Missed It: Finally Felix
After a stellar start to the 2022 season that saw Auger-Aliassime lead Canada to victory at the ATP Cup and then go on an incredible run at the Australian Open, it seemed inevitable that an ATP trophy would soon be in the Montrealer’s hands.
He did not have to wait long. In his first regular ATP Tour event of 2022, Auger-Aliassime exorcised his finals demons, finally winning his first title at the ABN Amro World Tennis Championship in Rotterdam in his ninth career final.
The Canadian did it in style too, beating back-to-back higher-ranked Top 10 opponents on his way to the title.
It was not all smooth sailing for Auger-Aliassime in Rotterdam, as he had to rally form a set down twice, including in his opening match. But as the tournament progressed, he started to re-find that early season form and when he broke Andrey Rublev at 4-all in the second set of the semi-finals, he was playing tennis at a level no one could match, winning eight of the next 10 games to reach the final.
In his first eight finals, Auger-Aliassime had never won a set. But the Montrealer was unrecognizable from the player who had lost those eight matches as he never trailed in the Rotterdam final, breaking serve in the opening game of both set, taking the racket out of Stefanos Tsitsipas’ hands, and blowing the world No. 4 away on his way to victory.
A fun bit of circularity, Auger-Aliassime made his ATP Tour debut in Rotterdam in 2018.
Auger-Aliassime’s countryman Denis Shapovalov was not so lucky in Rotterdam, as he lost in the first round to Jiri Lehecka, who had never won a match on the ATP Tour before but ended up going all the way to the semi-finals before losing to Tsitsipas.
Ruud, Kontaveit keep rolling
Despite his maiden title, Auger-Aliassime will not move up in the rankings this week because of Casper Ruud’s title run in Buenos Aires.
The Norwegian continued to show why he may be the heir apparent to Rafael Nadal as the next King of Clay, picking up his seventh career title, sixth on the dirt, and fifth on the surface in the last 10 months, beating defending champion Diego Schwartzman in the final.
It was Ruud’s second title in Buenos Aires, having won his maiden title there in 2020.
Buenos Aires was the site of the most emotional moment of the year so far, as former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro played what was likely his final match.
On the women’s tour, Anett Kontaveit stretched her winning streak on indoor courts to 20 matches and four consecutive titles dating back to the fall of 2021, claiming the title in St. Petersburg with a dramatic comeback victory over Maria Sakkari in an early match of the year candidate of a final.
Kontaveit lost the opening set and then trailed 5-2 in the third before reeling off five straight games to win the title.
Some history was made the inaugural Dallas Open this week, as Reilly Opelka won the longest tiebreak since the modern ATP Tour was created in 1990, winning the second set tiebreak of his semi-final with fellow American serve monster John Isner 24-22. Both sets in that match required tiebreaks, both won by Opelka, who went on to beat Jenson Brooksby for the title, again in two tiebreaks.
Canada’s Vasek Pospisil reached the quarter-finals in Dallas, having gotten into the draw as a qualifier, before losing to Isner.
What to Watch: Can FAA make it two?
It’s a very busy week, particularly on the ATP Tour with a rare instance of four tournaments on four different continents on the schedule.
Mirror in Marseille
Auger-Aliassime lost in the Rotterdam final in 2020 before taking the title in 2022. This week, he will once again look to win a tournament where he had previously lost in the final as he is the third seed in Marseille. The Canadian lost in the 2020 final to Tsitsipas.
The draw in Marseille is very similar to Rotterdam, as Auger-Aliassime may have to go through both Tsitsipas and Rublev to claim the title, although this time in reverse order as he is in the same half of the draw as the Greek. After a bye, the Canadian will meet a Frenchman in the second round, either Gilles Simon or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Denis leads in Doha
Shapovalov will look to bounce back from his Rotterdam disappointment at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha. He is the top seed and will open his tournament after a bye against Alex Molcan. He is also competing in doubles with Rohan Bopanna.
His first seeded opponent could be Montpellier champion Alexander Bublik and is in the same half as third seed and defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili. Roberto Bautista Agut is the second seed.
Big time in Dubai
Once again, there is only one event on the calendar for the women, but it’s a big one as the stars arrive in Dubai for the WTA 500 event.
Six of the Top 10 are competing at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, led by world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka. Joining her are Barbora Krejcikova, Paula Badosa, Garbine Muguruza, Iga Świątek, and Ons Jabeur.
The draw also features Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins and former champions Simona Halep and Elina Svitolina.
Draws for a 500 event don’t get much better than this.
Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski competed in the doubles, but lost her opening match early on Monday.
Meanwhile across the pond
The first ATP 500 event on clay is taking place this week in Rio, with Matteo Berrettini leading the way. He will have to contend with the two Buenos Aires finalists Ruud and Schwartzman who will look to keep their good form going.
Up in North America, Opelka will go for a second title in as many weeks on home soil at the Delray Beach Open. The giant American is the second seed behind Cameron Norrie.
Once again, the hosts feature prominently with five of the eight seeds being American.
Under the Radar: Doubling Up
Auger-Aliassime was not the only Canadian to win a title last week, as both Peter Polansky and Carol Zhao picked up doubles titles in Cancun on the ITF Tour.
It was Zhao’s first title since 2017. For Polansky, he has now won at least one title every year since 2011 with the exception of the COVID-decimated 2020 season.
Cancun was a big event for the Canadian women. On top of Zhao’s title, Rebecca Marino reached the singles semi-finals and the doubles quarter-finals with Stacey Fung. Fung and Katherine Sebov both made the quarter-finals of the singles too.
Both Polansky and Zhao will be looking to keep rolling in Cancun with another ITF event there this week. There are seven Canadians competing.
On the ATP Challenger Tour, Brayden Schnur and Steven Diez are competing in Italy and India respectively.
You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.