Felix lifts his fist in the air

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There was a lot of emotion at Accor Arena on November 2.  

Sitting next to Sam Aliassime was a French fan who was thrilled to see his seatmate’s son fulfill all the expectations placed on him. 

That French fan was Louis Borfiga, and there was no way he was going to miss the opportunity to see the player he watched grow up during the 15 years their paths crossed at Tennis Canada. 

Image : Tennis TV 

Just a few feet away from the action, seated with fellow Frenchman Frédéric Fontang, Borfiga was delighted that the Montrealer has matured into the talent that empowers him to believe in his wildest dreams.  

In a telephone interview a few days later, Louis Borfiga was quick to remind me of what he’d said five and a half years ago in Montréal, when Félix and Denis Shapovalov were winning Futures and Challenger tournaments.  

That Félix had the makings of a World No.1. 

It’s a statement the 22-year-old coincidentally repeated the very same day, at a video conference with sports writers in Québec and Canada who wanted to hear from Félix himself after his phenomenal season and ahead of the ATP Finals.  

But more on that later. 

First, a bit about Louis Borfiga’s experience at the Paris Masters.   

When he ran into Sam Aliassime and Fontang in the players’ lounge, they extended an invitation to join them in Félix’s box for the first set of his match against Ymer.  

Because Louis and Félix have always kept in touch.  

“Even if he’s in Monaco or elsewhere in the world, we text often,” Borfiga said. “Every time he wins a match or preps for one, I congratulate him or wish him good luck. And I have to say he replies in no time. It’s amazing! He gets back to me within five minutes every time.”  

Despite being only 22, Félix already has a highly enviable reputation as an athlete and as a person within the ATP fraternity. Among his many qualities are recognition and loyalty in friendship. 

Photo : Tennis Canada 

The 68-year-old was touched by Félix’s reaction when they came face to face in Paris: “When he noticed me in the players’ lounge before the match, he gave me a warm smile and seemed very happy to see me. It just goes to show what an amazing kid he is.” 

Despite his incredible streak these past few months, a lot of tennis fans said the media was getting ahead of itself, since quite a few of his opponents were outside the Top 20 and Top 50. 

“The people who said that don’t know tennis,” Louis Borfiga affirmed. “Regardless of the level—250, 500 or 1000—it’s never easy to win a tournament. So, winning two and then three in a row is really something. And those who said he didn’t defeat strong players need to remember he beat Alcaraz and Rune in the semifinal and final in Basel, which is an ATP 500.”  

The next day, Félix was up against another of Borfiga’s prodigies, Gilles Simon.  

The tennis architect was faced with a dilemma. Who would he support? He made the logical choice and chose neither. “I didn’t want to be there. Regardless of where I was in the stadium, it would have been interpreted one way or another. And in his post-match speech, Simon mentioned that I wasn’t in Félix’s box. So, Gilles had thought about it and looked over. But I was sitting comfortably in my living room,” he explained.  

Borfiga was under no illusions about how the showdown between the two would go, especially considering the Frenchman’s two previous marathon matches and his age at 37 years old. Of course, the mentor shed a tear or two as Simon closed out his career.  

Photo : AP 

“Gilles was happy to end his career against Félix, because he has so much respect for him. Don’t forget—and he even said it in his speech—he likes the Canadian and considers him to be among the real gentleman on the Tour,” noted Borfiga, adding that Simon asked French fans to get behind Félix the next time he plays there. “That’s a great tribute. You could sense the complicity between the two players.”   

So, it was no surprise to see Simon invite his opponent to join the French players who left their mark on his tennis career for photos. 

Photo : ATP Tour

Borfiga sees the 22-year-old’s fantastic season as the realization of one of his greatest wishes. “It’s huge to be on the cusp of the Top 5 at 22. It’s important to take stock of that accomplishment. Félix is really on his way.”  

Félix himself talked about his confidence in his own abilities at a virtual sit-down with Canadian media organized by his agent Bernard Duchesneau. 

To kick things off, a journalist reminded Félix that John McEnroe has often said he has the potential to become World No.1.  

Photo : Laver Cup 

“I agree with John,” Félix said. “I’m more and more convinced—and the people around me are, too—that I have what it takes to be No.1 in the world. Of course, I still have to deliver the goods, which is never easy.” 

A solid run at the ATP Finals (combined with a bad run for Medvedev) could see him cap off the year at No.5.  

As for his expectations for Turin, they’re exactly what you’d anticipate them to be: high.  

Photo : ATP Tour

“I’ve faced all the other players, and I’ve beaten some. So, for me, there’s no reason why I wouldn’t go into this tournament with the aim of winning,” Félix affirmed. 

That said, Borfiga wanted to share his thoughts about Félix’s current success and really emphasize the team competitions, since Félix stood up as a leader all three times he played team tennis: for Canada at the ATP Cup and Davis Cup and for Team World at Laver Cup. Those are the types of achievements that truly cement a player’s confidence and experience.  

Photo : Tennis Canada / Martin Sidorjak (Valence / 2022) 

“The fact that he’s played Davis Cup these past few years has been a major catalyst. Like a lot of other players, he gained confidence at Davis Cup. Choosing not to compete is a huge mistake. Winning for yourself is great, but winning for your flag and your country is really unique,” Borfiga explained.  

There’s no sense arguing with a wise mentor.  

At the 2019 Davis Cup, it was Félix’s début performance that gave Canada the deciding point against Slovakia in Bratislava. Louis Borfiga and the Tennis Canada team were already proud of the rookie.   

The 2022 Davis Cup Finals are happening in Malaga, Spain, from November 22 to 27. 

Photo : Tennis Canada (Bratislava / 2019) 

I ended the interview by mentioning Félix’s athleticism and how anything is possible if he stays healthy.  

“Oh! But hold on,” Borfiga said. “Do you know why he isn’t injured very often? I’ll tell you why: because he has the best fitness coach in the world!” 

And that’s Nicolas Perrotte.  

In 2006, as soon as he set foot in Canada, Louis Borfiga opened up his Rolodex. That’s how Guillaume Marx (who’s since taken Borfiga’s place at Tennis Canada), Frédéric Fontang (who’s since taken Marx’s place as Félix’s coach) and Perrotte (left in the photo) were hired. 

Photo : Twitter 

“Nicolas is pretty quiet. He’s humble. But he’s definitely the best on Tour! He doesn’t make as much noise as some Americans, but he’s much better than everyone else. He’s earned an international reputation, and everyone wants him, for sure.” 

Photo : Radio-Canada (2019 / Madrid) 

It’s probably safe to say that Tennis Canada won’t be letting him go any time soon.  

“They won’t let him go. They know it,” Louis Borfiga added. “And Félix knows it, too. In Paris, his father Sam told me three or four times how extraordinary Nicolas is!” 

All good things must come to an end 

Photo : ATP 

That heading is one of the most common clichés in situations like this. 

Still, it rings true. 

Félix’s sensational 16-match streak was smashed by Holger Rune at the outcome of their semifinal shoot-out in Paris.  

It was a historic run in Canadian men’s tennis and placed Félix within a win of Bianca Andreescu’s Canadian record.  

Here’s an update version of last week’s stats on winning streaks by Canadian players.

B. Andreescu172019
F. Auger-Aliassime162022
B. Andreescu102019
E. Bouchard102014
M. Raonic92016
F. Auger-Aliassime 82022
M. Raonic82011 / 2012 / 2013

The kids are alright 

Photos : Panorama 

You don’t see teenagers in the ATP Top 10 every day. Or even every year, for that matter.  

But in 2022, two managed to kick down the door.  

Carlos Alcaraz had a mind-blowing season, taking home a Slam and soaring to World No.1.  

And Holger Rune recently reached heights that are just as impressive, namely his 19-2 record, including four straight finals and two titles, and his winner’s trophy from the Paris Masters, where he dismantled five Top 10 opponents back-to-back.  

The Dane’s arrival brings the total number of teens who’ve broken into the ATP Top 10 to 22. And there aren’t many one-shot wonders among them.

What remains to be seen is how the two will fare over the next few years. Born six days apart in spring 2003, they’ve actually known each other for a while. 

Image : Youtube 

Back when they were 13, they teamed up at Les Petits As—the world’s most prestigious U14 event—in Tarbes, France. And as you can see here, they’ve barely changed at all. 

Courriel : privard@tenniscanada.com 

Twitter : @paul6rivard 

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