Challenger #NextGenATP First-Time Winner: Felix Auger-Aliassime
Felix Auger-Aliassime capped a historic run to the title at the Open Sopra Steria, claiming his maiden ATP Challenger Tour crown in Lyon, France. An unseeded wild card, the Canadian defeated Mathias Bourgue 6-4, 6-1 after one hour and 19 minutes in Sunday's final.
At just 16 years and 10 months, Auger-Aliassime etched his name in the history books, becoming the eighth-youngest titlist in Challenger history. He is the youngest since 16-year-old Bernard Tomic prevailed in Melbourne, Australia, in 2009.
The singles champion at the US Open boys' competition last year, Auger-Aliassime has focused exclusively on his professional aspirations in 2017. The decision has been a fruitful one, with the Canadian poised to break into the Top 250 of the Emirates ATP Rankings at No. 231. He is the youngest player to do so since Juan Martin del Potro in August 2005. Rafael Nadal and Richard Gasquet also made their Top 250 debuts as 16 year olds in 2002.
The €64,000 event in Lyon is held at one of the oldest tennis clubs in France. The Tennis Club de Lyon was founded in 1864 and was the training ground of French legend Henri Cochet.
ATPWorldTour.com spoke to Auger-Aliassime after the victory:
Congratulations Felix on winning your first Challenger title. How does it feel to be standing with the trophy?
It feels great. After all the work this season, starting off on the Futures tour and then starting to play more and more Challengers, I was grateful to get the opportunity to have a wild card here in Lyon. I never expected to come back with the trophy, but I believed in myself and it paid off in the end.
You won three three-set matches entering the final. What was the key for you this week?
The mental part of my game. I was staying very solid mentally. It's tough playing adults here. It's very different from the juniors and Futures. The guys don't give many free points, so I had to stay very solid physically and mentally. I was not playing my best tennis at the beginning of the week. Just staying in the matches and handling my serve was the key to playing some of the best tennis of my life.
You are one of the youngest players to ever win a Challenger title. Did you expect it to come this quickly in your career?
Nothing is written in advance, so I don't expect it from myself. I just give everything I have and push myself to the limit. That's what I did this week. I don't give myself any limits. If I could win every match I play, that would be great, but you have to deal with all kinds of situations. That's what I did this week.
16 & Under In The Top 250 (since 2000)
|Player||Top 250 Debut Ranking
||19 Jun 2017
||16 years, 10 months
|Juan Martin del Potro
||1 Aug 2005
||16 years, 10 months
||14 Oct 2002
||16 years, 4 months
||8 July 2002
||16 years, 20 days
How inspiring was it to see your close friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov win the Drummondville Challenger title? Did that push you to win one too?
Yeah, it definitely pushed me. We're both great friends. Obviously I was disappointed when I lost to him in the semi-finals, but when he won the title I was really happy for him. I think it really pushed me to get it this week. That was one of my main objectives for this year, to win a Challenger title.
You had a difficult draw this week. Talk about how your game has improved on clay.
I've been playing more and more on clay over the last few years. Having clay courts in our national centre in Montreal has helped develop my game. I played a lot of junior tournaments on clay and reached the final of the French Open last year. I'm getting more experience and I'm getting used to it. It paid off this week.
Your biggest win came in the quarter-finals against another teen in Casper Ruud. What did you do well to beat him in three sets?
I served well the whole match. I was dominating from the baseline and was able to put a lot of pressure on him. I put good trajectories and pace on the ball. It helped me to dominate him from the baseline and the mental side was important too. Even though I lost a tight second set that I should have won, I was able to fight back and stay in the moment.
This is your first year competing exclusively on the ATP Challenger Tour. What has the experience been like for you?
It's been tough. Far from easy. It's getting used to a different lifestyle and adapting myself to a higher level than the Futures or juniors. I spent five weeks in Asia recently and that was pretty hard. It's always about getting used to the level and at the end of the day I'm just happy that I'm playing fully on the Challenger Tour.
What made you decide to turn away from juniors this year and focus solely on pro events?
After my win at the US Open juniors last year, we didn't automatically make a decision. We decided when I won my first pro tournament, a Futures title, in November. I knew I had the level to play with these guys.
Have you given any thought to the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan? You will have a few chances to make it in the coming years.
It's not my main objective this year, but I think it's a good event. It's motivating for the young players and if I can qualify it will be a bonus. Obviously I would love to play in the next few years.
What are your impressions on the tournament in Lyon?
It's been great. I've been here since last week and everyone has been treating me perfectly. The staff, all the volunteers, the ball kids and everyone else involved in the tournament have been very nice. It's a really great event.