Felix Leads #NextGenATP Charge

17-year-old Canadian is one of four teenagers to reach the second round

What were you doing on Friday nights when you were 17 years old? Felix Auger-Aliassime started his weekend with the biggest win of his young career. The 17-year-old Canadian prevailed past his 27-year-old countryman Vasek Pospisil 6-2, 7-6(4) to earn his first tour-level victory in front of packed Stadium 2 Court at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

#NextGenATP teens have had a perfect start in the desert, going 4-0 with 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov and 19-year-olds Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur also reaching the second round. (Frances Tiafoe, 20, lost his opener to 21-year-old Ernesto Escobedo.)

The Montreal teenager dominated on serve, hitting 11 aces, including one to save a set point at 5-6 in the second set, and was opportunistic against Pospisil, who, a year ago, had upset then-No. 1 Andy Murray in Indian Wells. Auger-Aliassime converted two of his four break-point chances and saved all three on his serve.

I think I played great in the first. Came in pretty pumped and was playing well, aggressive, serving well,” Auger-Aliassime said. In the second, for some reason I kind of got nervous and I was seeing maybe the finish line... So I tried [to] take my time on the serve, stay calm. Then got a few clutch points with my serve not to get broken in the second. And played really well in the tie-break, so that was probably the key moment of the match.”

The win at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level is the latest attention-grabbing achievement for the #NextGenATP Canadian, who has been making headlines since he was 14, when he became the first player born in the 2000s to earn a position in the ATP Rankings.

Last year, Auger-Aliassime, then 17 years, 1 month and 5 days old, became the fourth-youngest player to crack the Top 200 of the ATP Rankings. Only Richard Gasquet, Rafael Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt had accomplished the feat earlier.

But ATP World Tour success took a few tries for Auger-Aliassime. During his tour-level debut in Rotterdam last month, he narrowly fell to Serbia's Filip Krajinovic at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament. A week later, Auger-Aliassime lost in straight sets to Italian Thomas Fabbiano at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille.

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Auger-Aliassime had received a wild card at those two events, but he entered the main draw in Indian Wells through qualifying, and the match experience showed as his athleticism, big serve and strong forehand excelled under the Friday night lights and a crowd eager to see the Next Generation shine cheered him to victory.

“I was really surprised the amount of people that were there. The whole stadium was almost packed. It was great. The atmosphere was just unbelievable,” Auger-Aliassime said.

“Last year, two years ago, never would have thought I'd be here talking to you guys, second round of the Masters. I was still playing juniors. This transition went pretty fast for me, so it's quite unbelievable to be here so early. But as a kid, those are the moments you dream of and those are the stages you want to play on.” 

Auger-Aliassime, the first player born in the 2000s to compete in an Masters 1000 event, will next face another countryman in No. 32 seed and 2016 runner-up Milos Raonic. “It's exciting to see someone I have looked up to growing up. I'll try to do everything I can to return the serve and hang in there. It's quite exciting,” Auger-Aliassime said. 

In other action, Pierre-Hugues Herbert won an all-French battle, outlasting his countryman Gilles Simon 6-7(8), 7-6(5), 6-3 in two hours and 52 minutes. Herbert evened their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 1-1, and will next meet 24th seed Gilles Muller of Luxembourg. The 34-year-old Muller will look to reach the Round of 32 for the third time (2017, l. to Nishikori; 2005, l. to Federer).

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“It was a match against a friend. It’s never easy to play a player, first of all, a really good like Gilles Simon, and a friend. We know each other really well. It’s never easy to start a match. I started really tight. But as the match went on, I got my rhythm and I was happy with my performance. Even if I would’ve lost, I would’ve been happy, but I got through and I got the win. So happy,” Herbert said.

The victorious Frenchman also had a special fan in the audience: His mother.

It was something special. She decided three days ago to come. She took a 12-hour plane and came. In the sun, avoiding the winter in Europe, enjoying. She never went here to 'Tennis Paradise'. She’s happy to be here, and I’m really happy to win in front of her,” Herbert said.

DID YOU KNOW?
Auger-Aliassime is the youngest player to win an ATP World Tour match since Denis Shapovalov defeated Nick Kyrgios in the 2016 Rogers Cup first round. Auger-Aliassime is also the youngest player to win a match at the BNP Paribas Open since fellow 17-year-old Michael Chang won three matches here in 1989.