If you’ve been following this blog, you probably have figured out I am a big fan of Frances Tiafoe, the 20-year-old rising tennis star from Hyattsville, Md.
He is having an amazing season in his third year on the ATP World Tour with a 20-12 record so far. He clinched his first title in March, reached the third round at the recently completed Wimbledon Championships and now is perched at a career high No. 45 in the rankings.
I have high expectations for Tiafoe.
But I want to introduce you to perhaps a more promising young black player, who has caught the eye in a big way of some of the sport’s greatest former stars and well-respected commentators. His name is Felix Auger-Aliassime. File it in your memory cabinet, because my guess is you soon will be hearing a lot of him.
I first heard about him a little more than a year ago from Terrance Scott, tennis director at the Aspen Hill Tennis and Fitness Club in Silver Spring, MD. I had expressed an interest in writing about up and coming junior players of color, and Scott said I needed to see this black kid from Canada. He was 16 at the time.
“He’s got big potential to be one of the best players on the ATP Tour for many years to come,” Scott told me later.
When I first saw Auger-Aliassime on court a few months later, I saw talent but not enough to convince me he was any better than some of the other young bucks making an impression on the men’s tour, including 19-year-old compatriot Denis Shapovalov.
But as time went on, I kept hearing experts say watch out for Auger-Aliassime. It reminded me of the mantra about Roger Federer before he won the first of his 20 Grand Slam titles 15 years ago.
Among those predicting stardom for Auger-Aliassime were seven-time Grand Slam singles champion and commentator John McEnroe, four-time Grand Slam singles champion and current U.S. Davis Cup Captain Jim Courier, and commentator Brad Gilbert, a former player and coach of Andre Agassi.
During the first week of this year’s French Open, commentator Mary Carillo seemed unable to contain her enthusiasm for Auger-Aliassime’s potential to be the next big star in men’s tennis.
At that point, I decided to delve into this 17-year-old Canadian brother’s background to learn why he was so highly regarded.
If birthdate foreshadows greatness, then let’s start with the fact Auger-Aliassime was born on the same day, August 8, as Roger Federer — albeit, 19 years later. The Swiss maestro invited the Canadian prodigy to train with him in Dubai at the end of 2017.
Auger-Aliassime was born in Montreal in 2000. His father, Sam, is a native of Togo and a tennis coach. His mother, Marie, is a teacher and native of Quebec. He has a sister, Malika, who also plays tennis.
As a junior, Auger-Aliassime compiled a 79-19 singles record that included the 2016 Junior US Open title. He won the doubles crown in 2015 with Shapovalov, a left-handed player who also is making a lot of noise on the ATP Tour.Embed from Getty Images
Since turning pro in 2017, Auger-Aliassime has been a record setter. He is the youngest to qualify for an ATP Challenger main draw, the youngest to win a main draw match and the youngest to retain a title, which he did last month in Lyon, France.
In January, he won his first ATP Tour match at the Masters 1000 tournament in Indian Wells, Calif. He became the first player born in the 21st Century to compete at that level.
Even with so many talented young players on the horizon, the buzz surrounding Auger-Aliassime is off the charts. He is among Tennis Channel’s 10 players to watch in 2018.
“Auger-Aliassime plays with a ton of intensity, something that will help him compete for titles…,” the network’s promo says. “The Canadian can best be described as an aggressive baseliner, with a ton of power on all of his shots.”
Last September, Auger-Aliassime became the second youngest player to crack the Top 200 since Rafael Nadal did it in December 2002. This week, he reached a career high No. 144. All the experts seem certain he will crack the Top 10 and maybe even reach the pinnacle of ATP rankings.
At 6’3” and 185 pounds, Auger-Aliassime has the size to compete well in a sport where the trend is toward bigger, stronger players.
I asked Terrance Scott, who has been following Auger-Aliassime since 2014, what had made him an instant fan.
“His footwork, his technique, his tenacity on the court,” Scott said.
He added that other young tennis players could learn a lot from just watching Auger-Aliassime’s videos.
“I use him as an example to teach some of my students,” he said. “I tell them to look at how he loads his legs and when he hits, he hits big.”
Auger-Aliassime already is a big hit in Canada. In October 2015, he and Shapovalov and compatriot Benjamin Sigouin won the Junior Davis Cup title, the first in Canadian history. Many see that success as a harbinger of what’s to come.