Felix Auger-Aliassime didn’t have much time to savour his first career appearance at the U.S. Open.
Overcome with heart palpitations during his first-round match last year against fellow Canadian and good friend Denis Shapovalov, the Montreal teenager had his main-draw debut at a Grand Slam end abruptly when he was forced to retire in the third set.
While things are much different for Auger-Aliassime now — he’s ranked No. 19 in the world, nearly 20 spots higher than Shapovalov — he still looks back on that match frequently.
"Even though I wasn’t able to finish it, it was still a great memory," Auger-Aliassime said Thursday in a phone interview with The Canadian Press. "That’s a dream I had since I was a kid to play in the U.S. Open, and my family was there to witness it.
"So in the end I have great memories from it."
The two will get a rematch of that emotional night at Arthur Ashe Stadium with Thursday’s draw revealing another all-Canadian first-round clash.
He’s not worried about his heart condition getting in the way this time though, after having off-season surgery to correct his symptoms.
"It sounds scary but it’s a pretty common procedure," Auger-Aliassime said nonchalantly. "There’s a lot of people that have this kind of problem … I was actually back really quickly, in a few days I had recovered."
Auger-Aliassime began the year ranked No. 108 on the ATP standings, but soared up to his career-high No. 19 this week.
That quick rise through the rankings — helped by a semifinals appearance at the Masters 1000 Miami tournament in March, and a runner-up finish at the ATP 500 Rio Open in February — has surprised even him.
"I think if you had told me last year I would be in the top 20, I wouldn’t have believed you," said Auger-Aliassime, who was ranked 117th at last year’s U.S. Open and needed to get through three rounds of qualifying just to make the main draw.
"My goal heading into the season was to be top 50 before the end of the year, but I think making that final in Brazil at the start of the season really gave me a lot of confidence and I just felt like I had the ability to beat anybody."
Auger-Aliassime already has a win against Shapovalov this year — he beat the 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., in the first round of the Masters 1000 in Madrid — to even their career head-to-head record at 1-1.
Shapovalov spent this week competing at a 250-level tournament in North Carolina while Auger-Aliassime has been prepping for the U.S. Open in New York since Saturday.
"I’ve gone out for dinners here and there but it’s mostly been just practising," he said. "I’m just trying to prepare as best I can."
Auger-Aliassime’s quick success this season — he’s 31-18 heading into the U.S. Open — has also opened other doors for the rising star, who was featured in the latest issue of Vogue magazine.
The interview request initially surprised Auger-Aliassime, who said he never thought he’d have a story written about him in a fashion magazine, but described the experience as "a cool moment."
"We did a photoshoot with an amazing photographer at a few places in London, did a few different poses," he said with a laugh. "I’m sure my parents will grab a couple copies (of the magazine).
"I haven’t even see it yet. I’ve only seen it online."
For all his success this season, Auger-Aliassime isn’t even the most accomplished Canadian star on this year’s tennis scene. That distinction belongs to Mississauga, Ont., teen and world No. 15 Bianca Andreescu, who has two WTA titles this season, including the Rogers Cup championship in Toronto earlier this month.
While Auger-Aliassime couldn’t watch all of her Rogers Cup matches — he was competing through the third round of the men’s event in Montreal — he called her championship run impressive.
"What she’s been doing is incredible, it’s beyond incredible, I don’t even have a word for it," Auger-Aliassime said about Andreescu, who will face American 17-year-old wild-card Katie Volynets in the first round. "It’s inspiring for Canadian tennis."
Andreescu is one of two Canadian women in the main draw in New York next week. Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., will face 12th-seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the first round.
On the men’s side, 21st-seed Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., will face Chile’s Nicolas Jarry, Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ont., will meet France’s Benoit Paire, and Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil will take on ninth-seed Karen Khachanov of Russia.
Auger-Aliassime said it’s hard to think of himself as the highest-ranked Canadian men’s player on the ATP tour currently. But it’s a distinction that he cherishes.
"For me that means a lot," he said. "I’ve been watching Milos and Vasek for so long and they’re such great players so for me it’s an honour to be the top-ranked Canadian."
Meanwhile, Peter Polansky of Thornhill, Ont., was knocked out in the second round of men’s qualifying. He lost 7-5, 7-6 (0) to Sumit Nagal of India on Thursday.
Toronto’s Steven Diez has advanced to the final round of qualifying on Friday. He’ll face No. 3 qualifying seed Soonwoo Kwon of Korea.