Felix Auger-Aliassime smiles while seated with a group of children in Togo.

Photo : BNP Paribas

In 2022, Félix Auger-Aliassime gave his all. He achieved several goals and received well-deserved honours and accolades. 

Canada’s international tennis superstar had barely downed his Davis Cup champagne when boarded a plane bound for Africa. Not to lounge on one of the continent’s pristine beaches (not yet, at least) but rather to make his way to Togo: a small West African republic whose nearly 48-kilometre coastline touches the Gulf of Guinea. 

Togo is where his father Sam Aliassime was born and where Félix has been contributing to the education and protection of children since 2020 through his #FAAPOINTSFORCHANGE program.

Photo : Instagram / @wearetennis

In partnership with BNP Paribas, the World No.6 donates $5 for every point he wins, which the French banking group matches with $15. Because Félix plays so many matches every season, the dollars have been pouring in. Since January 3, 2020, he’s racked up 16,486 points for a total of $325,000 donated.

As mentioned on BNP Paribas’ website, all the money raised goes to the EduChange program set up by humanitarian agency CARE.

Travelling to Togo to see the change his campaign has brought about is commendable. Especially since he hopped on a flight on the heels of Canada’s euphoric Davis Cup triumph with his dad, sister Malika and love Nina Ghaibi in tow.

Photos : Instagram / @wearetennis

It was the very first time Félix witnessed the impacts across Togo firsthand. He visited the tennis club where Sam learned to play, toured several villages and was even invited to coach a kids’ soccer match.

Photos : Instagram / @wearetennis
Photos : Instagram / @wearetennis

He also got hands-on by learning about some of the everyday tasks of the Togolese.

“It was good to see those things in person—even if I’d read the report beforehand—and see the impact the project’s had with my own eyes,” Auger-Aliassime said in an interview with Katherine Harvey-Pinard of Montréal’s La Presse newspaper.

Photo : Instagram / @wearetennis

“We’re aware of these realities, but I think they hit differently when you see them in person. Seeing that, despite everything, they have a smile on their face. All the kids I saw were happy.”

Indeed, there were smiles all around thanks to his mere presence and participation in the many activities organized for him, including this traditional Togolese dance that made him the centre of attention.

After just a few short weeks of downtime, Félix will be back on the courts to train for the first major of the season in Melbourne. But before that, from December 19 to 24, he’ll be competing in the inaugural edition of the World Tennis League exhibition tournament in Dubai.

Photo : Instagram / @felixaliassime

Will his luck hold and keep him injury free so he can play over 87 matches like he did this past season? Or will he skip a few tournaments so he doesn’t wear himself out as he faces the pressure of having to defend all the ranking points he collected in 2022?

Félix isn’t afraid of pressure. He’s even acquired a taste for it: “I like what Billie Jean King said, that pressure is a privilege. I’d rather be in the position I’m in now, where people have expectations…Even I expect to do great things at the next tournament.”

And in life, for the people of Togo.

Photo : Instagram / @wearetennis

“It isn’t always easy, and I have to push myself, but there are kids who walk three hours every day just to get to school. So, I tell myself: ‘Come on. You can make an effort and give it your best shot because what you do here has an impact on those kids.’”

That’s reminiscent of a similar initiative by a tennis great with whom Félix happens to share a birthday on August 8.

Photo : Fondation Roger Federer

In addition to their respective success on and off the courts as champions and gentlemen, the work Félix does for others brings him that much closer to the Swiss hero.

The World Tennis League

Mixed tennis is more popular than ever.

Once largely limited to the Slams and Australia’s season-opening Hopman Cup (1989–2019), it’s currently expanding to not one but two events to kick off 2023.

A few weeks back, this blog featured a story on the new United Cup, with WTA stars competing in singles and doubles. 

The week before the United Cup, many of them will be in Dubai as part of the new World Tennis League, which runs from December 19 to 24.

Photo : Digital AV Magazine

Three Canadians are in the mix: Bianca Andreescu, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Eugenie Bouchard!

In the very first edition of the international tennis event, 18 players are divided into four teams: Falcons, Hawks, Eagles and Kites. Knowing how culturally significant falconry and birds of prey are in the UAE, the choice of team names comes as no surprise.

Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Iga Swiatek, Caroline Garcia, Aryna Sabalenka, Nick Kyrgios and Dominic Thiem are among the headliners.

Félix and Eugenie will play for the Kites, while Bianca joins the Hawks.

Source : World Tennis League
Source : World Tennis League
Source : World Tennis League
Source : World Tennis League

The full schedule is available here.

In the opening rounds, Félix will take on Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic in singles. He’ll also team up with Bouchard in doubles. Bianca will play twice with Rohan Bopanna and once with Andreas Seppi.

Now that you know what the tournament involves, you may be wondering why there are so many new events even though the WTA and ATP calendars are full and already include Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup?

There’s a single reason.

Actually, there’s a double reason: fun and money.

It’s fun first, because that’s a priority for players and especially the members of the Top 10s, who get small fortunes thrown at them to boost the rosters. 

In their quest for precious points and prestigious titles, they’re under tremendous pressure all season long. The World Tennis League, the United Cup and Laver Cup are events at which the gravity lets up and camaraderie supersedes the relentless rivalries and competition. So, it’s understandable they’d want to be there.

And with the six- and seven-figure sums official and unofficial competitions offer the best of the best, it’s also understandable they’d want their preseason refresher be an exhibition rather than a tournament at which one bad match leads to immediate elimination. 

It’s mixing pleasure and business.

And vice versa.

Nick Bollettieri: Kingmaker

Montage : ATP

Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Maria Sharapova, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Boris Becker, Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios and Jelena Jankovic.

Former No.1s whose careers were shaped by the late Nick Bollettieri.

The tennis coach passed away on December 4, at the age of 91, after a long battle with illness.

Though he never played professionally, Bollettieri called himself the Michelangelo of tennis. The academy he founded in Bradenton, Florida, opened its doors to so many future champions, a dozen of which rose to the very top of the rankings. He ran it for nine years, from 1978 to 1987, before selling it to IMG.

Photo : Getty

When the news of Bollettieri’s death emerged, messages poured in. Here’s a post by one of his first students, former No.2 Tommy Haas. It’s as amusing as it is moving.  

“So many memories, I’m not sure where to begin. Nickiiiii, that’s how I have called you for the longest time. Thank you for your time, knowledge, commitment, expertise, the willingness to share your skill, your personal interest in mentoring me, and giving me the best opportunity to follow my dreams. You were a dreamer and a doer, and a pioneer in our sport, truly one of a kind. I surely will miss you around the academy, our Tennis talks, miss showing of your tan, white teeth and body fat, miss watching you do Tai Chi, miss playing Golf with you watching you try to cheat, eating a Snickers bar and running for the bushes, and hearing all about your plans even at the age of 91. Thanks again for everything…….. RIP Nickiiiii”

Haas’ tribute is just one of the many shared by some of the biggest names in tennis. The ATP has even compiled them on a dedicated webpage.

In 2014, Nick Bollettieri became only the fourth coach to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. The same year yet another one of his protégés, Kei Nishikori, reached the US Open final.

Photo : AP


Email : privard@tenniscanada.com

Twitter : @paul6rivard

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