Auger-Aliassime shakes off finals curse with milestone win in Rotterdam

Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada celebrates winning against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in two sets, 6-4, 6-2, in their final men's singles match of the ABN AMRO world tennis tournament at Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

That can’t win finals narrative should long be in the rear-view mirror.

On his ninth time of asking, Felix Auger-Aliassime is now, finally, an ATP singles champion.

The 21-year-old Canadian captured his first career singles title as he dismantled world no. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-2 in just 77 minutes to win the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament from Rotterdam.

The complete performance was the ultimate cherry on top of what’s been a remarkable start to the calendar season for the 21-year-old Canadian.

In many ways, it was also a full circle moment.

The Canadian played his first career ATP singles match in Rotterdam in 2018.

Four years later, he is their champion.

“It’s a special day for me,” acknowledged Auger-Aliassime. “It’s something that I’ve been thinking about and working towards for awhile now. Truly, it’s the most special day in my career.”

Auger-Aliassime was able to produce sharp, confident tennis throughout the week in the Netherlands.

After overcoming an early scare from Belarusian talent Egor Gerasimov in his opening round, he dismantled three-time slam champion Andy Murray, and promptly beat top 15 left hander Cameron Norrie to charge into the semifinals.

He then rallied past world no. 7 Andrey Rublev 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 before playing his best match of the week in the final.

Despite having lost five straight contests to Stefanos Tsitsipas heading into the showdown on Sunday, it was the Canadian in charge from the get-go, seizing an early break of serve to begin the match and dictating play with his powerful serve and first ball forehand.

Auger-Aliassime lost just seven points total on serve and earned three breaks against Tsitsipas as he imposed an aggressive yet composed return game.

In all, he won 61 of a possible 99 points in a surprisingly lopsided encounter to finally seize his elusive first singles title.

Auger-Aliassime readily admitted having lost his previous eight finals matches weighed on him.

“Of course, I’m happy, but I think the relief is even bigger,” said the Montreal native.

“I think it toughened my skin a little bit to face that adversity and personal challenge and overcome it. It definitely made me a better person and player.”

It’s certainly not just the Quebec weather he grew up in that lends itself to his tough skin. The Canadian has been a stalwart on the ATP circuit since his arrival.

At just 14 years, 11 months old, Auger-Aliassime won his first career ATP Challenger match. By age 17, he’d won four Challenger titles, and the 2016 US Open junior boys’ title.

At 18 years of age, he was a regular touring professional, and began his 2019 season making two ATP finals in South America on clay and soaring inside the top 20 by the end of the calendar year.

After a somewhat stagnant 2020 campaign that was marred with patches of inconsistency, Auger-Aliassime again took significant strides again last year.

He reached the quarterfinals in Wimbledon, knocking out the world no. 3 Alexander Zverev in an electric five-set match.

He advanced to the semifinals of the U.S. Open, notching memorable wins over Roberto Bautista Agut and Frances Tiafoe.

He would debut in the top 10 of the rankings just two months later.

Auger-Aliassime’s physical tools have been further honed as he’s taken his serve to greater heights, and he has unleashed it as a serious weapon this season.

After hitting 38 aces across his four wins in Rotterdam, he now has 180 aces in 2022, fourth on the ATP tour, only behind Americans Reilly Opelka, Maxime Cressy, and John Isner.

He has also returned much more consistently, applying pressure to his opponents, and continues to cover the court with great balance and speed.

It is his mental fortitude however that has grown by leaps and bounds; Felix is playing with a type of clarity and assurance on court that is often a hallmark of top players.

It could explain why he is performing so well against the very best in the world.

The Montreal native already has three top 10 victories in 2022, with victories over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, and Alexander Zverev.

He also held match points against world no. 2 Daniil Medvedev, falling to the Russian 6-7, 3-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a quarterfinal thriller from the Australian Open.

The season is still young with numerous big events ahead on the schedule. Two key Masters 1000 events await in March with Indian Wells and the Miami Open.

The clay court season will begin in April and Felix still has much to prove on the surface – he has never advanced past the first round of the French Open.

While the first title in Rotterdam came easy on the score sheet, the Canadian acknowledged fighting those inner demons that all tennis players experience in stressful moments.

“It’s not easy. I’m human after all. I live the same emotions that everybody does – I have doubts. I have fears at times. But I try to do my best. On top of everything is the relief that I can have now, and now I can just play even more freely when it comes to these last matches in the tournament.”

With the type of all-around game he possesses, we can expect many more title runs in the future from the humble 21-year-old.

Asked how he was going to celebrate his first career singles title, Felix said he was content with a quiet night out with his family and team.

“A nice dinner. Nothing too crazy and then life goes on,” he smiled.

Bon appétit.

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