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History major: Félix Auger-Aliassime hasn't lost his thirst for knowledge
The Canadian has put an unexpected first-round exit at Wimbledon in the rear-view mirror by moving forward with a debut appearance in Newport, the place preserving his sport's heritage.
Published Jul 13, 2022
Over last weekend, Félix Auger-Aliassime and Andy Murray linked up for a pair of training sessions. The two went about business as usual, gaining a feel for the conditions of a new environment. Given Murray’s grass-court pedigree, the benefits of hitting with the former world No. 1 and picking his brain were not lost on the Canadian.
Across the pond, Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios were due to face off for the right to become Wimbledon champion. It was a matchup that had everyone talking, including the two sparring partners.
“Before the final, we were practicing together and discussing what we think is going to happen and how we saw the match going. To talk with a tennis mind like his, it's always cool,” Auger-Aliassime tells TENNIS.com in a phone interview.
So were they on the same page when it came to analyzing how the showdown would play out?
“We agreed. I predicted what happened for Djokovic in four sets. Andy thought maybe in three sets,” shares the 21-year-old. “But we all knew it could be tricky at the end of the day. We saw it was not an easy match, even for the one that won. It was interesting to see what Andy thought. Djokovic again, stepping up and showing what a champion he is, is quite remarkable and inspiring for sure.”
Welcoming new experiences and maximizing opportunities to learn are qualities that have helped Auger-Aliassime become a Top 10 player on the ATP Tour. And this week, he’s in the city preserving the anecdotes and artifacts that have shaped his career pathway.
Today, the International Tennis Hall of Fame (ITHF) is a renowned piece of Newport, Rhode Island’s identity. A museum broken out into three sections—The Birth of Tennis (1874-1918); The Popular Game (1918-1968); and The Open Era (1968-Present)—marvelously illustrates the sport’s evolution through carefully curated items, interactive exhibits and an array of visuals. Auger-Aliassime hasn’t been through it yet, but as a kid who looked forward to history class, it’s an opportunity he surely won’t pass up.
“I tried to learn as much as I can in school. That was one of my very favorite subjects,” he says. “I don't know as much as other people of course. I love to understand why we're here today and what happened in the past.
“Within my sport, I always like looking at results, stories. What happens with players, good periods or tougher periods that they've had. I like to learn about the ups and downs, different eras, different periods. To be in a place where the sport that I play, that I love has so much history and then to learn about that, it's really nice”
The ITHF is housed inside the Newport Casino, a National Historic Landmark. Back in 1881, the venue staged the first U.S. National Men’s Singles Championship, and while the modern US Open is no longer contested here, the grounds have long held the Infosys Hall of Fame Open, the only tour-level event on grass in the States.
Ranked No. 9 coming in, Auger-Aliassime headlines the newcomers as the event's first Top 10 player in history. The Montréal native committed to play before knowing how things would pan out at Wimbledon, where there was prize money and prestige to be gained, but points to be lost (he reached the quarterfinals in 2021). That consideration, along with favorable scheduling and positive word of mouth, cemented his decision.
“I thought, ‘Okay, maybe I can add an extra tournament to have an opportunity to gain points,’ because at the end of the year, it might help in the race. So that was one of the key points of coming here,” he explains.
“Since I was going to play Los Cabos after, I'd rather stay on the same surface—play one more week on grass, which I like. I heard that the courts got even better than they were before, which I think sometimes was an issue before for some players. So, all of these reasons are why I'm here this week.”
For the man who investigates the rollercoasters of the champions before him, Auger-Aliassime is coming off a bump on his own ride. At the All England Club, he was sent packing in the first round by a serve-and-volleying Maxime Cressy. Just a few weeks earlier, Auger-Aliassime had been the closest to toppling Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros when he pushed the lefty to five sets in a fourth-round defeat.
I always like looking at results, stories. What happens with players, good periods or tougher periods that they've had. I like to learn about the ups and downs, different eras, different periods. —Félix Auger-Aliassime
With this student of the game, knockbacks are as essential to his development as knockouts. Like a math test, there are instances where answers to complex problems are worked through in time, and others where the clock runs out before cracking the answer.
“My expectations were, of course, higher than what happened at Wimbledon. But I also know that there’s been difficult matches I was finding a way to win. And this time, I couldn't find the solution in the moment. He was a little bit better than me when he needed,” Auger-Aliassime says.
“When this happened, I needed first to accept the situation, accept the result, and also take that as an opportunity to see what I can improve and do better. I'll be facing tough opponents that will be against me playing their best, and I will have to find ways to get through if I want to win these tournaments. It’s all a learning experience, but it doesn't change my confidence or the expectations.”
Auger-Aliassime left London for Monte Carlo, using the unforeseen period to work in an extra training block. Recharging will come after time wraps in Newport, a place saturated with vacation inspiration through its addictive ambiance. Here lies peak tourist season, where gorgeous ocean views, a notable restaurant scene and lively group gatherings transport Auger-Aliassime to nostalgic days of unclouded bliss.
“It’s a beautiful city. Life here is really good right now and it’s pretty alive. I went to the port, and to see everybody out, it just reminded me of what the summers used to be like when I was home,” he muses. “We've enjoyed some good food, of course. Some local specialties, like lobster, crab and clams.”
Since its inception in 1976, the Hall of Fame Open is yet to see a player from Canada step into the winner’s circle. While this history aficionado appreciates the prospect of adding his name to the record books, it should also come as little surprise it’s not a primary motivation for a person spurred on by the ongoing lessons wins and losses bring to his all-encompassing education.
“It's the consequence of what you're going to do and how you going to play,” he says. “I try to focus really on myself, what I can do in my control. If a milestone comes with that, then great.”
After winning his doubles opener alongside Benjamin Bonzi Tuesday, Auger-Aliassime makes his singles debut in Wednesday’s final match on Stadium Court against Australia’s Jason Kubler.