TORONTO — As Felix Auger-Aliassime walked off the court early Thursday morning, a smattering of fans who’d hung around long enough to see an epic three-set match at the Aviva Centre broke into song: “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you…”
The Montreal-born kid had celebrated his 18th on centre court Wednesday night, where he also suffered the most crushing defeat of his career. Still, when he heard the fans singing, Auger-Aliassime held up his racquet, he looked up from the spot he was staring at on the court and clapped as he walked off.
Later, still straight-faced and with a red towel around his neck, Auger-Aliassime captured the night perfectly: “It was special from beginning to end,” he said.
Special, and heartbreaking. His second-round, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) loss to World No. 22 Daniil Medvedev was easily the match of this tournament so far, one that saw Medvedev fall to his knees after converting on match point in the tie-break.
Auger-Aliassime, meanwhile, put his hands on his hips and looked down at the net while the crowd stood and clapped.
“You know, it’s just, they were there,” Auger-Aliassime said of the fans, who broke into ‘Let’s go Fe-lix!’ cheers near the end. “They supported me. And I just felt like I missed a couple points to deliver. And that’s just very frustrating because that’s not the way I thought it was going to finish. That’s not the way I wanted to finish.”
After winning the first set in convincing fashion, Auger-Aliassime led 4-1 in the third set and looked to be in control, an amazing thing for a teenager ranked 133rd in the world.
“I think after being a break up in the third, I don’t know. He stayed very solid,” Auger-Aliassime said of Medvedev. “Maybe I didn’t put as much [on my] first serve, to keep holding my serve to keep my break alive. But I think he stayed very solid. Credit is to him.”
In the tie-break, the Canadian led 4-1, but Medvedev again fought back, and earned three match points before Auger-Aliassime sent a backhand into the net on the final point. “I don’t know, I was feeling good,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s things I’ve seen before. Like, my emotions were fine. I was playing okay.
“It was just — I don’t know. Kind of, yeah, it slipped away, out of my hands.”
It did this time. But after watching the young Canadian — he has a big serve (there was a 209 km/h ace in his arsenal Wednesday), heavy ground strokes, he’s fast, he’s tall, he’s solid at the net — you had to be thinking: What a future he has.
Much like his buddy Denis Shapovalov, the lone Canadian to advance to the third round here, Auger-Aliassime plays a fiery brand of tennis, high on emotion. When he broke Medvedev to go up 3-1 in the third set, he pointed to the crowd and he pumped his fist. When he hit a routine shot into the net earlier in the set, he yelled: “Aaahh!”
On the day he turned 18, the same day Roger Federer turned 37, Auger-Aliassime walked onto the court just after 9 p.m., thanks to rain delays. If he was nervous, he hid it well. The kid walked out with a little smile and waved at the crowd, like he’d been playing in matches this big his whole life. He said he was no more nervous than usual, either.
It was too bad that many fans had already left after watching World No. 1 Rafael Nadal earn a straight-sets victory. Maybe it was past their bed time, maybe they came to see Rafa. Maybe they hadn’t heard of Auger-Aliassime. Whatever it was, they missed a doozy.
And though this tournament is over for Auger-Aliassime, though it didn’t end the way he wanted it to, this Rogers Cup has been a chance for many to have a first look at this promising young player.
He knows, too, there are positives to be taken from this week.
“I’ll think about it tomorrow,” Auger-Aliassime said. “To be honest, it’s a very tough night tonight. I was seeing myself win this match. I was up. I had opportunities.
“When my head is cleared tomorrow I’ll pick up the positives from this week, because there’s definitely a couple of good things.”
Indeed, there are.
Just a couple days earlier, when he was still 17, Auger-Aliassime had taken the media through the proper pronunciation of his last name, just so everybody had it right.
After the week he’s had here in Toronto, everybody ought to know his name.