Stefanos Tsitsipas, tennis’s vlog prince, has done plenty to be proud of in the last year, with wins over Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on hard court, a victory over Rafael Nadal on clay, and a current No. 6 ranking in the world. The breakout is nearly complete, and there is little else to wait for except his face in the second weekend of a Slam. But there’s still one opponent that Tsitsipas has never figured out, and he’s not even a legend, even if he’s giving off every indication of becoming one: Felix Auger-Aliassime, an 18-year-old Canadian.
In his first full season on the pro tour, Auger-Aliassime has already cut a path to three finals, and he was arguably one service-game choke away from heading to another one in Miami. He hit the tour a fully realized player, skipping the awkward tennis puberty phase entirely. This week at the Wimbledon warmup Queen’s Club, while playing just his second grass event at the ATP level, Auger-Aliassime took out a slew of tough foes.
FAA beat Grigor Dimitrov, which in a kinder alternate timeline would have registered as an upset. He beat Nick Kyrgios, who, outbursts aside, played three tough sets before abruptly deciding to tank at 5-6, deuce in the decider. And today he took down Tsitsipas, 7-5, 6-2.
There’s a little bit of history to what looks like a future rivalry. Back in the juniors, Auger-Aliassime beat Tsitsipas in all three of their junior matches, taking six of those seven sets. This year at Indian Wells, with Tsitsipas coming off the hottest stretch of his career, Auger-Aliassime beat him down in straight sets and left him looking completely out of answers. Here’s what Tsitsipas said immediately after that loss:
I don’t know if he’s like this every time. I mean, most of the times that I played him he was like this.
But it’s tough playing him. He has kind of a strange tempo in his game, and you always feel like he’s going to hit very hard, but then you don’t really know what to expect, how hard he’s going to hit the ball. So you’re always caught out of position.
I never played well against him. I don’t know why. We all have, you know, a few opponents that we always struggle with and, I mean, he’s one of them. So, I mean, in the future I’m going to have to find solutions to that. Obviously, I don’t want to keep losing to him.
Tennis is a game of stylistic matchups, which lends itself to a rock-paper-scissors effect. It wasn’t fully clear what Tsitsipas meant by “strange tempo,” and Auger-Aliassime, for what it’s worth, had no idea what to make of it either when asked. The Canadian plays the straightforward, devastating brand of aggressive baseline tennis that largely populates the tour, and if he is playing tricks with tempo, then they’re happening on a level too subtle for this layman to discern. Tsitsipas hasn’t quite put his finger on what makes Felix tough—not in press, not on the court—and dolloped on even more praise after today’s convincing defeat on grass:
He’s the most difficult opponent I’ve ever faced, and I think it’s gonna take a couple of tries to beat him. It is very difficult, because he has one of the best returns on the tour. He has a really powerful, accurate serve, which is tough to read. He’s really quick and fast, which is rare to find all of that combinations together, combined. Big forehand, big backhand. He can create a lot of opportunities from his backhand, but also, at the same time, he can be aggressive from the forehand side.
There’s not much to come up with when you play against him. He’s pretty much solid from everywhere.
It does worry me (that I’ll be competing against him for big titles), because—I mean, it’s upsetting obviously that he’s better than me. I have to accept that he’s better than me. I might never beat him, but if I think that way, just need to wait, years maybe, for that chance to come. If not, then not. If yes, then fantastic. I’ll donate, I don’t know, 10,000 for that win to a charity.
Tsitsipas also said he expected Auger-Aliassime to beat Federer, Djokovic, and Nadal and win Grand Slams. Taken together, that’s as comprehensive a tribute as you’ll ever hear from a freshly beaten tennis player, basically a full prostration—to a player who is younger than him and has yet to win a match at a major. As much as it pains me to ever think about sports in these terms, in this case the evidence is conclusive: You’re in his heaaad, Felix.