While young guns like Carlos Alcaraz, Holger Rune and, to a lesser extent, Frenchman Arthur Fils continue to go from strength to strength in season 2023, humble Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime remains unable to find his best tennis.
Dubbed “the chosen one” at the drought-breaking 2022 Laver Cup by Team World teammate Taylor Fritz following a clinical win over Novak Djokovic, 23-year-old Auger-Aliassime holds an underwhelming 13-13 win-loss record for the year to date.
While Auger-Aliassime still sits at 15th in the rankings, a more accurate reflection of his tennis in 2023 can be found by reviewing his standings in the Race to Turin where the prodigiously talented Montreal native sits in 49th spot and some 2000 points below the current qualifying line.
Fortunately for Auger-Aliassime, his ranking remains supported by his post-US Open results of 2022 where he hit a rich vein of form that included back-to-back-to-back titles in Florence, Antwerp, and Basel, and a semi-final appearance at the Paris Masters before leading Canada to Davis Cup glory over Australia in Spain.
The flip side is that to maintain his ranking he has to defend over two-thirds of points in less than three months. However, a top 16 seeding at the last grand slam of the year is certainly a good starting point.
Starting off the year with a loss in Adelaide to Australian Alexei Popyrin who was then ranked 120, Auger-Aliassime, who was ranked as high as 6th nine months ago has fallen short to players ranked 99 or worse on four occasions this year.
In recent weeks, there was hope that Auger-Aliassime would find form in his native Canada at the Toronto Masters. That hope was ultimately unrewarded with Max Purcell knocking out the home favourite 6-4, 6-4 in the first round.
One theory to explain the otherwise perplexing poor form of a man with more talent in his non-racquet-holding hand than most could ever dream of is the introduction of new coach Toni Nadal.
Brought into the coaching team to take Auger-Aliassime to the next level, the Nadal-Auger-Aliassime relationship has been one of constant intrigue in the tennis world ever since the Canadian took on Toni’s nephew Rafael in Roland Garros in 2022. Captured on the Netflix series Break Point, after several days of speculation, Uncle Toni elected not to sit in the player's box of Auger-Aliassime and openly publicised he was rooting for Rafael.
Supporting his nephew is of course unsurprising, however, the optics and consistent speculation cannot have been ideal for Felix who was preparing to play for a fourth consecutive grand slam quarter-final against the toughest test in tennis.
In any event, speaking to the media after the Purcell loss, Auger-Aliassime has declared that ultimately the buck stops with him.
"I don't think the solution is there (in coaching)," opined Auger-Aliassime.
"I have the same people around me who brought me there last year. We are all in solution mode internally to see how I can play better. But the main culprit is me. It's up to me to find the solution.
"I fight a little with myself. I felt good in training the last few days, but to start [the game] badly like that, it's totally my fault. It was the worst way to start a game, especially in a period like I'm living right now."
For us onlookers, it’s jarring to see someone such as Auger-Aliassime so bereft of confidence and unable to utilise his weaponry with the same level of artistry as he has in his career to date. His serve in particular has fallen from a near tour-leading weapon to more of a blunt knife. To illustrate, ATP Infosys statistics reveal that in 2022 Auger-Aliassime was the seventh-ranked player in terms of service games held. For 2023, he isn't on the ranking sheet.
No doubt “the chosen one” will come through the other side. No one debates his talents and, by all reports, Auger-Aliassime is meticulous with his preparations and is leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of better tennis. You can’t help but think it’s just a matter of time.
Perhaps it’ll be at the US Open. Or maybe it’ll be back when representing Team World in Vancouver shortly thereafter. In any case, we hope it’s soon. Tennis is better to watch when he's on song.