It was 4 pm on Friday afternoon. Félix Auger-Aliassime stood by himself on a practice court at the Miami Open.
An hour earlier, the 18-year-old Canadian was battling John Isner on a 13,800-seat centre court for a spot in the final. Thirty minutes ago, he was lamenting missed opportunities at the post-match press conference after a frustrating 7-6(3) 7-6(4) loss to the six-foot-10 American.
Auger-Aliassime would have been forgiven if he’d decided to take a little break. He had just played his eighth match in the last 12 days, making it all the way to the semifinals of a Masters 1000 event as a qualifier.
But there he was on court 17, tossing balls in the air, smacking serve after serve, shortly after fulfilling his media obligations.
— Mark Petchey (@_markpetchey) March 29, 2019
The six-foot-three Canuck has been destined for greatness for a long time.
Born in Montreal to a Togolese father and Quebecois mother, Auger-Aliassime played a variety of sports growing up. But tennis was where he really thrived.
In 2015, he became the first 14-year-old to ever qualify for the main draw at an ATP Challenger event. In 2017, he reached the top-200 of the ATP rankings – the youngest player to accomplish this feat since Rafael Nadal in 2002.
Over the last year, he played his first five matches against top-20 opponents. He won all five without dropping a set. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, on the other hand, both lost four of their first five matches against top-20 opponents.
By virtue of his success, Auger-Aliassime has skyrocketed to a career high ranking of 31 in the world – a ranking likely to rise in this spring’s European clay court swing. The Quebec native has already won three challenger titles on clay, and reached the final of the Rio Open on the red surface earlier this year.
Auger-Aliassime’s ascent can be attributed to the depth of his all-around game. While many young players possess blistering forehands, some are error-prone if you attack their opposite wing. However, Auger Aliassime’s consistent, sharply angled cross-court backhands usually force his opponents to make the first mistake. His great touch on drop volleys at the net is rare for anyone on tour, much less an 18-year-old.
If there’s one area of his game where Auger-Aliassime has struggled in big moments, it’s been on serve. He hit nine double faults in the Rio Open final against Laslo Djere. Against Isner in Miami, he was broken twice while serving for the set, leading the Canadian to hit serves on the practice court following the match’s conclusion.
Judging by that appearance on court 17 shortly after a heartbreaking defeat, Auger-Aliassime won’t struggle in those moments for long.