Editor’s Note: ATPTour.com is resurfacing features to bring fans closer to their favourite players during the current suspension in tournament play. This story was originally published on 25 August 2019.
At 2:34 p.m. on Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime began a promotional shoot for the Next Gen ATP Finals. He’d already had one practise session earlier on, just three days away from his first-round match at the US Open against close friend and countryman Denis Shapovalov. And later in the evening, he’d travel to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for his second hit of the day, this time on Grandstand, where he hit with countryman Vasek Pospisil in front of just a few photographers.
A year ago, then a qualifier, Felix departed the court in tears after retiring in the third set against Shapovalov due to a reoccurring heart condition. Now Auger-Aliassime returns to New York as the favourite after cracking the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings for the first time this week, making him one of the quickest-rising stars on the ATP Tour.
But Auger-Aliassime is humble to say the least. Just weeks ago at the Coupe Rogers, throngs of fans sprinted after the teen wherever he went — to practise, to a match, probably to dinner, too. Felix was the celebrity and phone-wielding fans were paparazzi en masse. Yet after arriving at the photoshoot, the first thing he did was introduce himself to all the staff around, extending his hand for a handshake to each person in every room, whether he’d previously met them or not.
Auger-Aliassime is not all forehands and backhands, nor is he all serves and returns. Yes, he’s a tennis sensation, but he’s also a well-mannered 19-year-old, a teen who presents himself as someone who’s been there and done that. The thing is, this is only the beginning.
At 2:38, Felix arrived at the photo room on the second floor, where a handful of lighting apparatuses brought a dark-coloured background to life. The Canadian sat down to have make-up applied.
As incredible as it may seem because of his stellar 2019 season — which has included his first three ATP Tour finals and a maiden ATP Masters 1000 semi-final — Auger-Aliassime is trying to qualify for the Next Gen ATP Finals for the first time, currently sitting in second place in the ATP Race To Milan, from which the Top 7 21-and-under players in the world automatically qualify.
“Everyone said it’s great,” Auger-Aliassime said of the third-year event.
The No. 18 seed stood up at 2:41 and began digging through his bag. Did he need to wear white socks or black socks? Auger-Aliassime was prepared for anything, even down to his socks.
Arms folded. Turn your body to the left. Back to the right. Keep your body to the side and turn your head towards the camera. Take a step back.
The photographer was like a coach, but instead of being on the court feeding forehands and backhands, Felix was in a small hotel room in Manhattan, showered by the consistent pings of the flashes going off around him.
“Like this or like this?” Auger-Aliassime asked about a pose. It’s clear that doing things properly is of the utmost importance to Felix. When he’s asked to do something, he wants to do it the right way.
During a momentary break in the shooting, Auger-Aliassime looked down at and played with the strings of his racquet. Those strings will likely be cut out after his next practice. But countless winners will fly off of the Canadian’s racquet in the years to come.
At 2:47, Felix was asked to put his sweater on for the next set of photos. The make-up artist warned him to be careful, saying she could fix his hair, but that the make-up could be more problematic on his clothes.
“Did I get it right?” Felix said, eager to please.
The photographer and his assistants got to a point where they wanted Auger-Aliassime to scream for an image full of intensity. All of the #NextGenATP stars coming through that day would do so. The first shot wasn’t intense enough for the photographer.
“I’m not angry right now. Maybe after practice tonight,” Auger-Aliassime joked. “You’re getting precise now. Shouting, screaming. I don’t know.
“Okay, perfect!” At 2:53, Auger-Aliassime thanked everyone in the room, walked through the hallway past several conference rooms and down a set of winding stairs, leaving him in the lobby. Ten seconds later he walked into a larger room where a green screen awaited him to film promotional material for Milan, should the Canadian qualify.
Again, Auger-Aliassime introduced himself to everyone in the room and awaited instructions. The first thing he did was autograph a frame of glass, much like you see players do after a match. The director explained to him how one side of the marker was thinner and the other was thicker, and that he should use the latter. Again, Auger-Aliassime double-checked to make sure he did it correctly, signing the glass four times until it was perfect.
At 3:04, Felix had to go through the roaring routine again, and then at 3:10, the director asked him for a burning stare through the lens to finish off his session in front of the green screen.
Once again, Auger-Aliassime thanked everyone in the room and took an elevator up to the third floor to speak some promotional lines into the camera for the Next Gen ATP Finals, sitting in a chair in a smaller hotel room at 3:12.
Straight into camera?
Felix used plenty of hand motions, reading his lines with plenty of energy. Whenever he misspoke, he quickly apologised, even though he didn’t need to. There were no forehands or backhands being hit in that room, but Auger-Aliassime was giving it everything he could.
Want my body this way?
In isolation, this precision is nothing atypical. But it’s clear that Auger-Aliassime is particular about everything he does.
After losing in the Miami Open presented by Itau semi-finals, in which he struggled with his second serve in crucial moments, he went right to the practice court after the match to work on it. Felix double faulted 10 times in his first-round loss at the Western & Southern Open against fellow #NextGenATP star Miomir Kecmanovic.
But shadowing Auger-Aliassime for just an hour, even away from the tennis court, the teen showed he will relentlessly work to fix that. He is simply too precise not to.
“I always have high expectations. I put big goals ahead of me,” Auger-Aliassime said.
One of his goals was entering the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings by the end of the year. He accomplished that by 1 April.
“For sure I was surprised,” Felix admitted of how quickly he’s risen in 2019. But he also says that he’s put in the work for it. And he’s not counting himself qualified for Milan yet, either. Auger-Aliassime is insistent on continuing “to do the right things” now and for the rest of his career, never counting his chickens before they hatch.
“[I want] to make sure I make it,” Auger-Aliassime said of qualifying for Milan. “You’ll make it if you deserve it.”
At 3:22, Auger-Aliassime thanked the final few staff members for their help during the shoot, and walked towards the hotel’s exit, with a tantalising first-round match against his friend Shapovalov ahead of him.
There’s little one can learn about a player’s tennis at a promotional shoot. But regardless of what happens on Tuesday at the US Open, Felix will continue to put the work in.
Whether he wins or loses a match, he will handle it with class. And Felix won’t stop until he gets the most out of his game. How high is his ceiling? Only time will tell. And at 19, there is plenty of time to find out.