He made his Davis Cup debut at just 18 years of age and a few months later was playing in the final of the competition. Together with Denis Shapovalov he represents a new generation of Canadians who, with good reason, dream of one day winning the world champion trophy.
His athletic physique and a game that combines technical perfection, grace and dynamism have made Felix Auger-Aliassime, at just 20 years old, one of the most promising players in international tennis. 2019 was his big turning point; he reached the world top 17 and also played the final of the Davis Cup at the age of 19. Canada, which has another great talent in Denis Shapovalov as well as the experience of Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, reached the final of the competition in Madrid for the first time and in 2021 dreams of taking another step forward lifting the trophy for the first time.
For someone who doesn’t know much about tennis, what is the Davis Cup?
For us it’s really the world cup of tennis, so when you have the world cup in football, the world cup in basketball, so in tennis the Davis Cup is the world cup of our sport. We take the best players of every country, playing in front of their devoted fans, bringing out the best of each other. And I think most of the time in the Davis Cup you see the most amazing matches, come-backs, upsets and the most special emotions.
What do you think of the new format?
The tension was very high, we had all the best players competing at the same time and the same place. I think that was quite special... I think the intensity was even higher and… so for sure the task was tough but in the end it made some good matches. And for the fans to be able to also not only watch their country play but the other countries, to see the best players in the world compete, it’s also quite good I think.
“I’d never heard a crowd like this. The atmosphere was something I’d never felt before. You feel the ground shaking, you have goosebumps on your body when the anthem is going on…”
What did it mean for you to play in the Davis Cup?
It was quite special. First of all we were a great group of teammates, friends. I get along well with all of my teammates and the captain, so that’s a big advantage and we had great chemistry… And then I had the chance to play the final against Spain, it was one of my best memories on court as a player.
You only played one game that week. Tell me about your injury.
A couple of weeks before, I was practising in Vienna, I was getting ready for a tournament there and I twisted my ankle so I had to stop the remainder of the season. I rested, recovered and then I was training again and I was trying my best to be ready for the Davis Cup because that’s something you obviously don’t want to miss.
The Canadian team lost Milos Raonic at the last minute but had Vasek Pospisil in some of the best form of his career. What is he like and what is your relationship?
[Vasek] was always a great friend, I would say a big brother, someone I could always have a good laugh with, I could go up for advice and he always had a good word for me. I really see him as family now and we have a special relationship, a special bond… His game in general is so powerful, so aggressive in the way he serves, in the way he can come in and play the volley. He’s obviously also a great doubles player.
“[Denis is] not scared of anybody, I think even in the finals, playing against Rafa, in front of 12,000 people he proved that he wasn’t scared of that challenge.”
You are of the same generation as Denis and you know each other very well. How would you describe him?
Denis is such a complete player, he doesn’t really have any weaknesses. He has a great serve, explosive game. He’s so aggressive and so confident in what he does. I would describe him really as cold-blooded. Whenever he steps on the court, he’s a killer. He’s not scared of anybody, I think even in the finals, playing against Rafa, in front of 12,000 people he proved that he wasn’t scared of that challenge. We’ve known each other obviously since a long time because we’re a similar age. And it was always a dream of us after winning the Junior Davis Cup to bring this team to the highest level and we just need to go one step further the next time.
On the Sunday of the final you had to face Roberto Bautista. Were you aware of his personal situation?
I learned that his father passed away. Obviously the first thing is… you send your best sympathy to him and his family. I hugged him when I saw him back because I think he’s a great person, I’ve always liked Roberto. But that shows how much courage, and how much he wanted to be there for his team and for the country. And also with the way he played in the final against me - it showed amazing character, I think we can all look up to that.
And on a sporting level, what was that game like?
I’d never heard a crowd like this. The atmosphere was something I’d never felt before. You feel the ground shaking, you have goosebumps on your body when the anthem is going on, everybody was chanting and when the Spain team arrived it was something I’d never felt before. Obviously you feel the stress, the tension, the expectations on that day. And I just felt from the first balls that Roberto was not going to give up anything. I did a good job, I was playing good for my first match of the tournament. But you felt that there was something special around him, around the whole thing and the emotion involved and you really felt that any time he needed to he went into an extra gear and to really give himself a chance to win that match.
“Rafa deserved it and he showed great leadership, great character and once again we say it so many times now in his career but for me to see this live, see it in front of my eyes, it was something very inspiring for a young player like me.”
Tell me about the second game, Nadal v Shapovalov and what Rafa represents. Did you grow up watching him?
We tried to stay positive, I tried to come back for the team, be on the bench supporting Denis. I remember, it was a well-fought match and actually in the second set Denis had chances to maybe win the second set and go to a third set, so it was a hard-fought battle. Rafa deserved it and he showed great leadership for his team, great character and once again we say it so many times now in his career but for me to see this live, see it in front of my eyes, it was something very inspiring for a young player like me.
A victory for Denis would have led to the doubles. What was going through your mind at that time?
It got tough when Denis lost the first set… I think when you’re in the situation like this and the match like this, Davis Cup, you forget about everything, everything else, it’s two men fighting for the win and Denis was fighting with all his heart to never give up and always give hope to the team. If they went to the doubles we had Vasek who didn’t play that day he was fresh for the doubles, so I think in a third match the decision of the captain would have been great to keep Vasek fresh and healthy for the doubles with Denis.
And how do you balance the feelings of being a finalist but losing a final?
We were very proud, standing on the podium with a team like Spain… For sure it was tough to accept, I think the whole team was a bit down. In the locker room after the match we wanted to regroup and leave, think about the future, but at the same time take the time to appreciate what we did that week, stand proudly on the podium, stand tall because, you know, it’s only the beginning for our team because we have a very young team, a promising team.
Don’t miss out! Learn more about Felix Auger-Aliassime and the Canadian team in the documentary Break Point: A Davis Cup Story. Access it here