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McEnroe's message resonates as Auger-Aliassime plots post-injury surge

Felix Auger-Aliassime Felix Auger-Aliassime - The Canadian Press

After Wimbledon wrapped up, Felix Auger-Aliassime got a call from John McEnroe. 

"He wanted to know how I was feeling," said Auger-Aliassime, who is No. 12 in the ATP rankings. "It was more of a call to know how I'm holding up." 

After being forced to withdraw from multiple events due to a nagging knee injury, Auger-Aliassime lost to a lucky loser, 119th-ranked Michael Mmoh, in the first round at the All England Club. The 22-year-old from Montreal hasn't won consecutive matches since a quarter-final run at Indian Wells in March.  

"He was very positive," Auger-Aliassime said of McEnroe's message. "He told me to stay composed and not stress too much over it and forget the past and just focus on what's ahead. Those are simple things but coming from a guy like him – I know how ambitious he was as a player and still is today, he's a perfectionist at heart – it meant a lot."

McEnroe has worked with Auger-Aliassime at the Laver Cup, which pits the top players in Europe against the World in a Ryder Cup-style format.  

The knee has been a problem for most of the season but Canada's top ranked singles player, who also lost in the first round of the French Open, finally feels like the issue is under control.

"I'm in a good place," Auger-Aliassime assured TSN during an interview this week. "I'm back on the court playing with top players in Monaco. It's feeling really good."

During the recovery process, Auger-Aliassime has kept an eye on his rivals. He watched the entire Wimbledon final as Carlos Alcaraz, 20, dethroned Novak Djokovic. Auger-Aliassime was impressed by how the Spanish sensation went for it in the biggest moments. 

"Playing really fearless like he does all the time," Auger-Aliassime observed. "It lights up this competitive side of me. I think I can speak for other players as well, we don't want to let [Djokovic] just win all these tournaments and not be competitive, so it's pushing me to do the right things. It's a nice challenge to have."

Auger-Aliassime posted wins over Alcaraz and Djokovic late in the 2022 season, when he was among the hottest players on tour. He won three straight tournaments, reached the semifinals at the 1,000-level event in Paris, earned a ticket to the prestigious ATP Finals, and led Canada to its first Davis Cup title. Auger-Aliassime finished the season at No. 6 in the rankings, which is his career-high mark.  

The win over Djokovic helped Team World claim its first Laver Cup title. McEnroe, as he has done since the event was launched in 2017, served as Team World's captain. 

"To see that Felix got in Novak's head a little bit was awesome," McEnroe told TSN earlier this year. "Rarely do you see doubt with him, and it looked like he wasn't quite sure."

During that February interview, McEnroe predicted Auger-Aliassime would win a Grand Slam by the end of the 2024 season

"I expect big things," the seven-time major singles champion said. "He's a great kid. He really wants it. He does everything possible to put himself in the best possible position."

McEnroe and Auger-Aliassime will be reunited at the 2023 Laver Cup, which is coming to Canada for the first time. Vancouver will host the event from Sept. 22-24. Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Nick Kyrgios will join Auger-Aliassime on Team World. Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Holger Rune are confirmed for Team Europe. McEnroe and Europe captain Bjorn Borg still have a couple selections to make. 

Auger-Aliassime believes he can build some major momentum before landing on Canada's west coast. He's only played one match since June but isn't worried about the layoff. 

"I feel like my game can come back together fairly quick," the big-serving righty stressed. "I really believe it. I'm convinced that once everything is good physically, I'm going into these next tournaments as competitive and with the same ambitions that I always have. The standards are not lower."  

Auger-Aliassime is scheduled to play in Washington, Toronto and Cincinnati before heading to New York for the U.S. Open. He reached the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 2021, which remains his best result at a Grand Slam. 

"I've been on the tour for a couple years now and I feel like I know my game now more than I ever did," Auger-Aliassime said. "So, I know that being good physically, being fit, is a big pillar for my game. I'm an explosive player and I like to use that as a strength. When I feel fit and I feel like I can move well, defend, and I can be versatile on the court, that's when I give myself the best chance to win against anybody."