The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Felix Auger-Aliassime

The 21 & Under Club, 2020 Edition: Felix Auger-Aliassime

The Canadian cracked the ATP Top 20 before his 20th birthday, and might have the highest ceiling of any player on this list.

ATP Rank: No. 20
UTR Rank: No. 42
What he's done since last summer: Reached the final round of ATP 250 Marseille & Rotterdam 

In November 2017 I was in Bradenton, Fla. to interview Nick Bollettieri when a sound engineer noticed a clangor drowning out the legendary coach’s signature raspy voice.

It sounded like a construction project, like someone firing a nail-gun on the IMG Academy’s outer courts. Rather, it was Felix Auger-Aliassime drilling his crosscourt forehand.

In tennis, you have the eye test—which Auger-Aliassime passes with his textbook stroke production and elite athleticism—but you also have the ear test. It’s important as well, because the cleanliness and power of each shot can be judged by the sound the ball makes when it explodes off the strings. Few players, and certainly nobody 21-and-under, can crack their forehand like Auger-Aliassime.

The Canadian is so gifted that he actually helped end a player's career without even knowing it. Bethanie Mattek-Sands’ former coach and former Georgia Bulldog All-American Austin Smith played a then 16-year-old Auger-Aliassime at an ITF futures tournament in 2016. This is what happened:

“I was playing some of the best tennis of my life and Felix beat me 6-2, 6-1,” Smith said. “I’d just won a futures title in Israel and was feeling good, but there was nothing I could do against him. He had a much more complete game with six fewer years of experience. After that match I began to question whether I was doing the right thing trying to play on the pro tour. He took away all my confidence. But seeing him ranked No. 20 in the world now makes me feel a little better about myself.”

Though Auger-Aliassime has yet to capture his first ATP title, he’s already reached five finals. It’s just a matter of time before he starts regularly hoisting trophies on Sundays. Perhaps nobody in this group of young players has a higher ceiling than the 20-year-old.

“No one knew who he was three years ago and now all of a sudden he looks like the next best prospect,” said Andy Roddick. “I wish he lived a thousand miles further south.” 


Strengths

FAA’s devastating forehand and cat-like quickness are his two biggest strengths. He can extend points with his movement, but can also end the point with any given forehand.

His racquet-head speed allows him to hit shots most people can’t. Here, Auger-Aliassime strikes a clean winner off one of the game’s most effective shots—the Feliciano Lopez slice backhand (on grass, no less). Bringing this ball up and down over the high part of the net off a low-skidding slice is nuts.

Here, Auger-Aliassime hits a devastating forehand off his back foot, followed by a screaming swinging volley from near the baseline. This type of raw power is practically undefendable.

Here, Stefanos Tsitsipas crushes a forehand crosscourt, but Auger-Aliassime’s quickness and compact stroke production enable him to handle it easily. It’s yet another example of why going forehand to forehand with the Canadian is a bad idea.

So you clearly can’t play FAA to his forehand, it’s just too good. That means you have to pressure his backhand right? Wrong. One of FAA’s best shots is his running backhand pass.

When approaching to Auger-Aliassime's backhand, oftentimes the court looks wide open, because it is. But his freakish explosiveness quickly shrinks the court. This is a very good approach from John Isner; it's just a better passing shot.

Here is perhaps the best example of FAA’s range and explosiveness. One strong push from his right leg and he’s able to cover nearly half the court. The athleticism and body control it takes to hit this shot is off the charts.

In addition to his blistering forehand and absurd court coverage, he’s just plain talented.

Let’s not overthink this too much. Some players can simply hit shots that 99 percent of tennis players can’t. FAA is one of those players. 

It’s one thing to get a racquet on this nearly perfect drop-shot from Malek Jaziri. It’s another thing entirely to get there with perfect balance and finesse this naughty crosscourt winner.


The Class of 2020 is now on TENNIS.com and Baseline.

Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday, July 31: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday, July 31: Carlos Alcaraz | Saturday, August 1: Denis Shapovalov | Saturday, August 1: J.J. Wolf | Sunday, August 2: Bianca Andreescu | Sunday, August 2: Leylah Fernandez  | Sunday, August 2: Marketa Vondrousova, Miomir Kecmanovic