By HOWARD FENDRICH
The Associated Press
WIMBLEDON, England — Dealing with jitters early in a match is nothing new to Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Being among the favorites to win Wimbledon? Considering the Canadian is just 18 and never had won so much as one Grand Slam match until this week, well, yes, that’s not the sort of thing he is used to.
One more victory, and the kid known to many by his initials, “FAA,” could be taking on defending champion Novak Djokovic. Not that he’s worrying about that just yet.
The first player born in the 2000s to win a men’s match at a major, the 19th-seeded Auger-Aliassime progressed to the third round in his debut at the All England Club with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over French qualifier Corentin Moutet on Wednesday.
“I can recall being 10 years old and playing (for) the first time away from home and being very nervous. Since (I was) very young, you kind of learn how to deal with this pressure, with the stress,” he said. “But at different stages of your career, you face different times. Now it’s Grand Slams. Maybe one day I’ll play finals of these events and I’ll be, for sure, extremely nervous. I think it’s emotions you can’t go against. It comes — and then it all depends on how you deal with it. Today, I was able to deal with it in a good way.”
Auger-Aliassime is hardly the only one contemplating the possibility that he could play for a major championship in the not-too-distant future. Much like Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old American who beat Venus Williams on Monday and won again Wednesday, Auger-Aliassime is fascinating folks because of his play, but also his age.
Tennis has been waiting for quite some time to discover a worthy successor to the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, who have won the past 10 major titles and 53 of the last 64. So there is a bit of irrational exuberance whenever some youngster comes along with the sort of talent and poise Auger-Aliassime seems to possess in abundance.
As of Wednesday evening, British bookmakers were listing Auger-Aliassime at 25-1 odds to lift the Wimbledon trophy, behind only the top three seeds: No. 1 Djokovic, No. 2 Federer and No. 3 Nadal.
That’s remarkable. The Montreal native only played one Grand Slam match, and lost it, until this tournament. He had never been ranked above 108th until this season.
But who else is there to rate right behind the game’s dominant figures? It’s just three days into the fortnight and the guys ranked Nos. 4-6 — Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, guys in their 20s all touted as up-and-comers — already are gone, as is three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, who lost to 21-year-old Reilly Opelka of the U.S. in five sets.
“I understand that people want to see a new winner of a Grand Slam. They don’t want to see three of us dominating the Slam titles. Eventually it’s going to come,” Djokovic said, then waited a comedic beat before adding with a smile: “in about 25 years.”
Djokovic moved into the third round by dismissing Denis Kudla of the United States 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.
“There were some moments in the match,” Djokovic said, “where maybe I could have done better.”
Whatever you say, Novak.
He will face 22-year-old Hubert Hurkacz of Poland on Friday; Auger-Aliassime takes on 21-year-old Ugo Humbert of France.
“I know if I win, I could play Novak. But then there is a match to play. Once the match gets going, you’re already in enough trouble in the court,” Auger-Aliassime said, “you don’t really think of what could happen.”
He boasts a big serve that reached 131 mph on Wednesday and helped him save 12 of 14 break points.
His forehand can end a point when he needs it to. So can his backhand. And his returns were good enough to win the first point in 11 of Moutet’s 18 service games.
After losing to him at a grass-court tuneup event last month, Tsitsipas called Auger-Aliassime “the most difficult opponent I’ve ever faced,” agreed with the premise that he could go deep at Wimbledon this year and offered this prediction for down the road: “He can win Grand Slams, to be honest with you.”
Auger-Aliassime is trying not to pay too much attention to that kind of talk, saying that he cares more about his own goals and self-belief than any outside views.
When a reporter asked about the idea that he might be looked upon to “carry the sport forward,” Auger-Aliassime replied: “’Carry the sport’ is a bit much. Obviously, yeah, there’s a bit of a pressure. I think it’s quite funny, because I think for a lot of players, when they play their first Grand Slam, they have zero expectations. No one talks about them.”