Félix Auger-Aliassime

Top, worn throughout, by Adidas Originals by Wales Bonner

Félix Auger-Aliassime's Breakthrough Year

You could call it a breakthrough year for Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Since the summer of 2021, the 22-year-old tennis player reached his first Grand Slam semi-final, cracked the top ten of the world rankings, led Canada to victory at the ATP Cup with teammate Denis Shapovalov, and won his first singles titles as an adult. This Friday, he'll appear as one of the stars of the new Netflix documentary series Break Point, which traces the recent lives and careers of a number of the sport's more engaging rising stars, leading up to the kickoff of the 2023 with the Australian Open next week. When I bring up this checklist of milestones, he's quick to shrug it off. He's already made this type of high performance a habit. "I want to be in this position," he says. "I'm really starting to believe that I'm able to be, and not just once—that I can do it regularly."

His generation is crucial for men's tennis. The past two decades have been defined by the Big Three—Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic—whose historical dominance, longevity, and global appeal have reshaped, and sometimes overshadowed, an entire sport. As their careers wane, other players with the potential to sustain the momentum come into focus: There's Daniil Medvedev, with his wry irreverence; Carlos Alcaraz and his dynamite bravado; Stefanos Tsitsipas and his earnest belief.

And then there's Auger-Aliassime.

With bombastic ground strokes and an increasingly punishing tendency for first-strike tennis, the six-foot-four Montréaler is capable of producing the kind of lights-out game that draws oohs and aahs from fans and casual watchers alike.

Fueling the hot shots is a perfectionism that never relents. His on-court demeanor is calm, but it can't hide the intensity bubbling below. To watch Auger-Aliassime is to feel the work, the thought, and the pressure behind every forehand cracked down the line, break point saved, shot made or missed.

"It's a passion, an obsession. From a young age, I've had the goal of being great at everything I do. Tennis is just the thing I do best," he explained on a call squeezed in during the busy summer stretch of the tennis season. He expects good results will breed better ones: "I gained a lot of confidence in the last year, conviction that I can win at any level and against any player."

Perhaps the greatest proof of his confidence is patience. Since turning pro in 2017, his rise has been steady, not meteoric. That makes sense to him. "I value the will to constantly try to become better, to make the effort week after week. You don't see the difference from one day to the next, but I believe in the long-term process," he says without a hint of self-doubt. "Every day, when I finish the day, I have no regrets about the effort I put in." Not for nothing, his fellow players—the Big Three included—invariably commend his work ethic when asked about him.

Top by Adidas Originals by Wales Bonner. Pants by Homme Plissé Issey Miyake. Sneakers by Adidas, Auger-Aliassime's own.

Top by Adidas Originals by Wales Bonner. Pants by Homme Plissé Issey Miyake. Sneakers by Adidas, Auger-Aliassime's own.

As a new regular in big-stage, high-stakes matches, maintaining his cool is a big part of the work. "I try to separate emotions from reality," he says. "Sometimes you step on the court and you feel certain emotions, but they are just a reflection of something outside of you, like results or expectations. If you let them tick, those emotions can create tension and fear."

In the moment, he neutralizes them with point-by-point analysis. "I'm constantly thinking on the court," he explains. "If you start focusing on the outcome, winning, losing, things get difficult. But if you think about what's really happening — like 'Why am I down in the match?' or 'How do I stay ahead?'—you can push emotions to the side. I try to focus on what I need to do to win."

No matter what question he is asked, Auger-Aliassime's answers are equal parts thoughtful and workmanlike. With some of his feistier rivals in mind, I ask about the difference between his on- and off-court persona. He finds the distinction meaningless: "You're the same person on the court. You're just ex- posed to a lot of stress; you're vulnerable and under pressure. That's when your bad habits come out. You can't hide them there. I see my job as the constant work of building good habits, whether I'm playing tennis or not."

For all his clear-eyed pragmatism, he does allow himself to dream forward about what his success might mean to others. In 2020, he launched #FAAPointsForChange in partnership with BNP Paribas, a program that links his on-court performance with social impact. Since then, each point he wins during an official match triggers a donation contributing to the education of children in Togo, the West African nation his father is from.

"I've always wanted to be in the position to do something like that. I wasn't sure when or how it would come, but I’m glad it did so early. And it's only the beginning," he says of the program. After a pause: "If I can shine a good light and inspire younger generations in Montréal, or in Togo, or anywhere, I will be very proud of that at the end of my career."

Thankfully, he's not one to leave much up to chance.

Break Point premieres on Friday on Netflix. The Australian Open begins on Monday. Read this story and many more in print by ordering our fifth issue here.

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Grooming by Viorela Coman at Gary Represents. Photographer's assistant: Tomas Beck. Shot at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.