MONTREAL — After returning home following an impressive performance at last week's Miami Open, 18-year-old Canadian tennis star Felix Auger-Aliassime said Tuesday his success this year has come more quickly than expected.
Auger-Aliassime was the youngest semifinalist in the 35-year history of the tournament, and despite losing to John Isner, he climbed 24 spots to reach 33rd place in the ATP Tour rankings. Auger-Aliassime also reached the final at the Rio Open in February, followed by a quarter-final finish at the Brasil Open in Sao Paulo.
"It was definitely faster than I expected it," Auger-Aliassime said of his success. "After going to South America and playing a lot of matches, you just get into a rhythm and you get a lot of confidence, and everything falls into place."
After getting over some knee troubles at the end of 2018, he said he's fully healthy and able to play his best tennis.
"Where I am now, with the confidence I have, I go into every tournament believing I can win and go all the way," he said.
His strong play has won praise from the tennis world, including from Roger Federer, who recently called the young Quebecer "impressive" and compared him to Rafael Nadal. Auger-Aliassime said the compliment "is a great sign that I'm doing some good things. For people like that to say good things about me means I'm on the right path."
Despite the international attention and prize money, the teenager said he has no immediate plans for a big purchase.
"I haven't thought about that," he told reporters at Montreal's IGA Stadium when asked if he planned to buy a flashy car. "I don't have my driver's licence yet."
He acknowledged there are elements of his game he needs to improve, including keeping his nerves in check when the pressure is on. Auger-Aliassime was serving to win both sets against Isner and was broken both times, allowing the six-foot-10 American to rally. He ended up losing 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) to Isner.
Auger-Aliassime said his nerves got to him a bit. "The importance of the match kind of hit me psychologically," he said. "It shows I have room to improve, and I make errors — I'm human.
His serve also got him into trouble when he double-faulted three times while serving at 5-4 in the first set. "It's clear I can improve my serve and throw — but my serve has also allowed me to win a lot of games this year."
Auger-Aliassime will remain in Montreal for the next few days to train and spend time with family before travelling next week to Europe for the Monte-Carlo Masters. He is still a few spots out of making the main draw and said "it's a possibility" he'll get a wild card into the ATP Tour Masters 1000 event.
He has decided to leave Montreal and move to Monaco full time in order to avoid travelling long distances to tournaments. He said having a home base in Europe will allow him to train all year with top-10 world players.
"Being on the road all year there isn't a lot of time for me to relax. To have a base in Europe is essential," he said.
When asked about the tax advantages of living in Monaco, he replied that he has his "personal and professional reasons" for making the move.
"People don't all have to agree," he said.
Auger-Aliassime said he is looking to be an ambassador for the sport and to encourage young people in Montreal to take up the game. His ultimate goal, he said, is to be the best on the planet.
"The biggest achievement is to be first in the world," he said. "I'm on the right track, but there are a lot of young players, playing well. The ultimate dream is to win a Grand Slam and be number one."