Nightmares haunted Felix Auger-Aliassime following a devastating loss in the French Open boys’ final back in June.
The 16-year-old from Montreal had three match point opportunities against Geoffrey Blancaneaux but couldn’t finish him off.
Auger-Aliassime used that loss as a motivator on Sunday, downing fifth-seeded Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia 6-3, 6-0 to win the U.S. Open boys’ title in commanding fashion in New York.
"I didn’t want to get that feeling again," Auger-Aliassime said on a conference call.
"It was really tough for me in the following weeks and months to forget that I was one point away from being a Grand Slam champion. But after all, being so close, I know that my level was there to win a tournament like this. Last time it was more a question of bad luck so this time it was really to go, keep being me and play my game aggressive."
Auger-Aliassime became the youngest Canadian to win a junior Grand Slam singles title and is also the second Canadian to win a major junior title in as many Grand Slams this season. Denis Shapovalov from Richmond Hill, Ont., won the boys’ Wimbledon title in July.
It took the teenager just 58 minutes to down Kecmanovic. Auger-Aliassime fired five aces, won 80 per cent of his first-serve points and had 22 winners en route to the victory. He also won 4-of-7 break-point attempts and was never broken by Kecmanovic.
He says that what he learned the most from his loss at Roland Garros was to not think too much ahead.
"Maybe last time when I won the first set I thought it was done, but no, no, no you have to go and get every point," Auger-Aliassime said.
Auger-Aliassime, ranked ninth among juniors and seeded sixth at the U.S. Open, describes his victory at Flushing Meadows as a relief after what happened at the French Open. He credits a larger portion of his success this week to his strong mental game.
"I think I had some difficult matches at the start of the tournament but after that I was really strong mentally especially in the matches where I wasn’t playing particularly good and that helped me throughout the week and in the final," he said.
Auger-Aliassime is the second Canadian to take the Open junior title, joining 2013 champion Felip Peliwo of Vancouver. Auger-Aliassime defeated 18-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the top junior player in the world, in Saturday’s semifinal.
It’s been a successful run for Auger-Aliassime, who won the boys’ doubles title at Flushing Meadows with Shapovalov last summer — the first all-Canadian pair to win a Grand Slam junior tournament in 25 years. The duo also finished second in this year’s Wimbledon doubles final.
Between Auger-Aliassime’s U.S. Open win and Shapovalov’s impressive year that included a victory over world No. 16 Nick Kyrgios at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, the future is looking right for Canada on the court.
Auger-Aliassime says, however, that there’s no hard feelings between he and any of the other up-and-comers.
"I think what’s great about us is that we’re all great friends and we all wish the best for each other," Auger-Aliassime said. "No one is jealous of each other, it’s all healthy rivalries."
The singles title comes a day after he and fellow Canadian Benjamin Sigouin lost in the U.S. Open junior doubles final.
Auger-Aliassime says that he was going to enjoy a nice dinner in New York on Sunday night before heading back to Canada on Monday. He won’t have much time to rest, though, as he heads to the junior Davis Cup in Budapest on Wednesday. Auger-Aliassime then plans to rest and train after his trip to Budapest while mixing in a futures tournament at a location yet to be determined.
Despite his win, the six-foot-one, 155 pounder understands that his body is still growing and says that the more he grows, the more it will help him.
"I’m still young, I realize that," Auger-Aliassime said. "I still have a lot of work left to reach the next steps.
"I hope to keep this high level of play."