Félix Auger-Aliassime admits it from the start: his start to the season is “a little below” his expectations. However, the principal concerned remains optimistic for the rest of the year. After all, two factors work in his favor: time and talent.

The Quebecer had to skip the start of the clay-court season due to knee pain. After his early second-round elimination at the Miami tournament, the 22-year-old took time out of action to rest.

Like Roger Federer, it is extremely rare for Auger-Aliassime to withdraw from a tournament in which he was registered. The last time was at Roland-Garros in 2019. However, he will return to clay this week, at the Madrid tournament, in preparation for the French Open. In the meantime, this one-month break will have been beneficial.

From his home in Monaco, Auger-Aliassimne, ninth racket in the world, is lucid and honest about his start to the season. His results are below expectations, or at least the standards established at the end of last season.

“I think it’s perfectly normal,” he admits, shortly after finishing supper. These are cycles that are part of a career. There, I’m good. It was good for me to rest a little. »

In reality, his start to the campaign is far from terrible. He won 12 of his 19 matches. Rather, it is the illusion that he must win every tournament, like last fall, that distorts perception and expectations of him.

Auger-Aliassime prefers to see the glass half full: “I won against the players I have to beat on paper and then I lost against very good players, twice against [Daniil] Medvedev in particular. Despite having issues with my knee, I remained competitive in tournaments. »

He nevertheless regrets having been unable to ride the victorious wave at the end of the last season, during which he was walking on water.

After the United States Open, the big guy went on to tournaments: the Laver Cup, Astana, Florence, Antwerp, Basel, Paris-Bercy, the ATP Finals and the Davis Cup. He ended up triumphing at five of those tournaments. He then took a few days off before flying to Australia and restarting the machine.

Nevertheless, this huge volume caught up with him physically, emotionally and mentally over the winter. Does he regret playing so much tennis? “I had the reflection with my team. Finally, “I have no regrets about what I decided to do.”

At the end of the United States Open, he took the time to think about what to do next. “I decided to go all out and won just about every tournament. It was a good challenge that I managed to take up and I am proud of it. It was a first for me to play so many matches and win so much in such a short time. »

It’s as if he no longer knew how to lose: “I was calm, I had my bearings on the field, I knew how to win games. I really had this confidence that I had everything to win. »

It would therefore have been cruel, and even a little curious, to curb this surge. Auger-Aliassime, on the other hand, admits having “a little underestimated the emotional, physical and mental load that it required”.

“It’s not perfect yet, but it’s going in the right direction,” the new Dior brand ambassador says of his knee.

Auger-Aliassime has been injury-free since the start of his career. He takes jealous care of his body and this has allowed him to avoid health problems. The last three years have been “great” in this respect and this imposed break has made him realize a lot.

“Waking up every day and having pain somewhere, it opened my eyes. Like when you have a cold and you have trouble breathing, you remember times when you were breathing easily and you didn’t think about it, because it was taken for granted. »

In this sense, the last weeks of training have been an interesting challenge. The idea is to find the balance between doing enough to stay in shape, but not doing too much to avoid aggravating your condition.

“I haven’t found perfection yet, because it’s a constant adjustment. Sometimes you have to push out of your comfort zone, because that’s where you’re going to look for progress. But at the same time, there are days when there is weariness, when you are more tired and when the training may be a little less quality. It is not an exact science. »

He will take the collar again in Madrid, on clay. A difficult surface for the joints, but on which he likes to express himself. As his first game approaches, he is somewhere between fear and excitement.

“Compared to what I have, what hurts me the most are the flexes. The slides were a little complicated at first, but now it’s much better. I feel ready to go and play in Madrid. […] But no one around me knows how long it will take before I get back to 100%, ”says the Quebecer.

In addition, tempers flared at the Monte-Carlo tournament between several players from the world’s top 10. Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev had trouble in front of the media and Taylor Fritz aimed some arrows at Stefanos Tsitsipas. “It was funny watching it go from my house,” admits Auger-Aliassime.

These situations had become rare during the Federer-Nadal era, but they were commonplace in the 1980s and 1990s. “, he explains.

“It’s true that through their interventions, we feel that between Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev, there is a bit of a triangle and they don’t seem to like each other too much, but hey, that’s part of the game. one side, it’s not so bad. »

The right-hander is more diplomatic, calm and composed. It would therefore be surprising to see him involved in such childishness. It is nevertheless essential for him to remember the reason for which he is there, to play on the most prestigious grounds in the world.

“The reality is, we’re not here to make friends. Friends, I have some in Montreal who will remain my friends, no matter what happens. We’re here to advance our careers, we all want the same thing every week and only one is going to get it. However, I think we need to set a good example. For me, this is very important. »

The French company Dior announced on Saturday, the day after Félix Auger-Aliassime’s interview with La Presse, that it had made the Quebecer its new ambassador. The fashion giant made the announcement on Twitter. According to the company, the player embodies “the spirit and the timeless signature of men’s creations”. He therefore joins Emma Raducanu, winner of the United States Open in 2021, as the face of the brand. Auger-Aliassime was also already sponsored by Adidas, Babolat, TAG Heuer and Renault, since January.