Having A Good Impact On Others Just As Gratifying As Wins For Auger-Aliassime

Felix Auger-Aliassime (photo: Mike Lawrence/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 6, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Through the first week of this year’s US Open, one thing has become plainly evident: there’s no time like the present time for the teens who have taken the New York City spotlight and run with it.

There’s been Leylah Fernandez, the self-described “happy-go-lucky girl” from Canada, who turned 19 today – but not before beating two past US Open champions, Naomi Osaka of Japan and Angelique Kerber of Germany, while still just 18 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The 73rd-ranked Fernandez will face World No. 5 and Olympic bronze medalist Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round.

Also, there’s been 55th-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, the 18-year-old from Spain who became the youngest man to reach the US Open quarterfinals since 1963, after stringing together back-to-back five-set victories over World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and 141st-ranked qualifier Peter Gojowczyk from Germany.

And, let’s not forget the exciting 18-year-old British rising star Emma Raducanu, who has put together back-to-back Round of 16 performances at Wimbledon and the US Open. She earned a Monday afternoon marquee berth in Arthur Ashe Stadium against American Shelby Rogers, who upset No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia Saturday night.

Raducanu didn’t disappoint the New York fans who flocked to see her on the big stage, as she confidently beat Rogers with ease, 6-2, 6-1, to move into Wednesday’s quarterfinals against No. 11 seed Belinda Bencic.

On Tuesday, Alcaraz will play No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who must be feeling like an old man despite still being a #NextGenATP star at age 21. He reached his second straight major quarterfinal with the support of 24 service aces during a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory over 50th-ranked American Frances Tiafoe inside an energized Arthur Ashe Stadium Sunday night.

“At some point, age is just a number,” Auger-Aliassime said after beating Tiafoe, when asked about Alcaraz. “He already feels like a player that is established.”

The Canadian, who became the youngest man to reach back-to-back Grand Slam quarterfinals since Juan Martín del Potro in 2008-09, is beginning to come into his own during this US Open fortnight. He began with a grueling four-set win over 152nd-ranked Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy on Court 17, then followed it with a straight-set win over 116th-ranked lucky loser Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain, also on Court 17.

On Friday night inside Louis Armstrong Stadium, Auger-Aliassime went the distance to beat No. 18 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, in just five minutes shy of four hours, which set up the highly-entertaining and competitive fourth-round tussle against the popular Tiafoe that began Sunday’s night prime-time session on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

In this first head-to-head meeting between best of friends, Auger-Aliassime hit 55 winners and won 83 percent of his first-serve points, while Tiafoe hit 10 aces and 41 winners. Although Auger-Aliassime converted just three of 15 break points, it was enough to push him across the finish line as the winner at the end of the intense three hour and 24-minute match. Auger-Aliassime outpointed Tiafoe 139-124 to move on.

“It was a tough start from me, a lot of nerves,” Auger-Aliassime said. “After I tried to recover I felt like I could have been able to break back in the first set – but it is what it is, you’ve got to accept it.

“I played a great second set. That third set was almost a coin toss. I did feel like I had what it took to win that set and I just had to stay strong on my serve in the end I’m really happy to be through.”

The Auger-Aliassime/Tiafoe matchup prompted this thought from tennis correspondent Tumaini Carayol of The Guardian, who wrote on Twitter Monday: “Yesterday was really a moment. Two young, black male players contesting an intense and high quality match on Arthur Ashe Stadium, prime time, for a US Open quarterfinal sport. Auger-Aliassime’s serving, clarity and resilience in nervous moments was impressive.”

During his Sunday night press conference that followed his victory against the Hyattsville, Md.-native Tiafoe, Auger-Aliassime was asked to articulate his awareness of the influence he can have on young people as he’s building his own career. The young Canadian’s answer spoke volumes about him.

“I think I’m not totally aware yet of maybe the impact that I have,” the Montreal-born Auger-Aliassime said. “Sometimes talking with my family, with my dad that owns an academy, he tells me, you know, the kids watching and the impact that can have. It’s really flattering. It’s really good to feel that, of course I’m playing for myself, trying to achieve great things in sport, but also having a good impact on others is the most gratifying thing.

“I think Frances and I can be proud of ourselves for stepping on that court today. We have come a long way. It’s not like the road is clear from, you know, where he came from, from where I came from, it’s a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice.

“So, to have new faces in tennis on this stage … Of course, we are playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium, he was the pioneer, but now to have kids like Frances and I stepping up and playing some good tennis, I really hope it inspires and sends a good message to other young players or kids out there.”