Tennis |  The best days have come

Tennis | The best days have come

A little riddle to start the week. It’s from my mother-in-law.

“Do you know how to recognize a rattlesnake?

— …

– Don’t worry. When you meet one, you’ll know. »

Even after 20 years, it still makes me smile. What is true for rattlesnakes is also true for future tennis champions. When you see one, you know it. Simply.

In the spring of their career, champions progress quickly. 500me. 250me. 100me. fiftyme. 25me. They grow fast, fast, fast. Sometimes a little all crooked. They got lost. They enter a top. They must be attached to the tutor. Then one day they hatch. One time.

Pop.

That was what happened to Leylah Fernández last summer at the US Open. The Quebecer had eliminated three of the top five players in the world in quick succession, as well as a former number one. A few months later, here she is again a quarter-finalist in a Grand Slam tournament, with excellent chances of reaching the final. I’ll get back to that in two minutes.

At the same time, we have been waiting three years for this great moment from Félix Auger-Aliassime. It’s not that he fights. On the contrary. At 21, he is already among the top 10 in the world. He also participated in 10 finals. Except that he lost nine of them, which is difficult for him to face the players of the top 10, and that he barely plays for .500 on clay. Unsurprisingly, expectations for spring, the red clay season, were modest.

The beginnings were disastrous. Auger-Aliassime bowed to opponents far less skilled than him. Then in Rome two weeks ago he found himself up against the best player in the world, Novak Djokovic. An excellent player on clay. Auger-Aliassime offered him solid opposition in a 5-7, 6-7 loss. Djokovic was impressed. ” [Félix] improved on clay, commented the Serb this weekend. We had two very close races in Rome. I was surprised by the precision of their service from him. »

PHOTO BY DYLAN MARTINEZ, REUTERS

Felix Auger-Aliassime

On Sunday, the Quebecer had a date with another legend. The Ocher of Ocher. The King of Paris. Rafael Nadal. Do you know how many players have beaten the Spanish at Roland-Garros throughout history?

Five?

Less.

Four?

Lower.

Three?

Even lower. Only two: Djokovic (twice) and Robin Söderling. Whereas Auger-Aliassime, before this year, had not even won a single match at Roland-Garros. This tells you the difference between the two players.

However, Auger-Aliassime resisted. Much longer than expected. He almost won. Until the middle of the fifth round, we believed in it. Felix attacked his opponent relentlessly. Like a hungry panther. And the king was afraid. For a very rare moment in his career, in Paris, Nadal found himself in the position of prey, rather than predator. The Spaniard had to take exceptional shots at the end of the game to beat the Quebecer at the start, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

For the last two weeks, Auger-Aliassime hasn’t beaten a champion. Except he showed that he could stand up to the best players in history on clay. It’s already a feat. He also pushed Daniil Medvedev (2me in the world) to the limit, in January, on the surface chosen by the Russian, in Melbourne. And he eliminated Roger Federer on grass last summer at the Halle tournament.

“Felix is ​​getting closer and closer,” said his trainer Fred Fontana. The team. After his match against Medvedev in Melbourne and Djokovic in Rome, we can say that it is positive. He creates opportunities. At some point, he will pass. »

Well, now it’s through his young compatriot Fernández. The young Quebecer (17me) has just successively eliminated Belinda Bencic (14me) and Amanda Anisimova (27me). Here she is in the quarterfinals. The most encouraging? She is now the highest-ranked player in her mid-table. A second Grand Slam final in less than 10 months is now just a possibility. It is a very real probability. If she keeps up the momentum and wins all of her matches this week, she could reach fourth place in the world and equal Bianca Andreescu’s Canadian record.

For both Fernández and Auger-Aliassime, their careers have just passed the spring stage. He gives way to summer and the most beautiful days.


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