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Can Felix Auger-Aliassime Notch a Top 3 Win in 2019?

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon works on a hypothetical for Felix Auger-Aliassime.

You’ll excuse us for feeling a little patriotic these days, but as your Canadian friend will tell you after the Raptors win in the NBA Finals: yeah, we’re feeling ourselves.

It starts, as these things tend to do these days, with a tweet—from our esteemed editor-in-chief no less. Look here it is.

Obviously, this is just a hypothetical and you probably think to yourself that we could have just wrote about this topic any given week, that today maybe we should have just wrote about either of the Roland-Garros finals instead. And yet? And yet, we’re writing this the Monday after Felix Auger-Aliassime made another final in his young career, so this is fairly timely and relevant.

The subtext in wondering whether the young man can notch a win against the three best players of his era at either of the remaining Grand Slam events, is that we want to know just how good can FAA get and how quickly.

Auger-Aliassime’s surge in 2019 has been quick and rapid and maybe the reason why we’re wondering about the youngster’s chances on the biggest stages of the sport is that it feels like a foregone conclusion that FAA will make it to the NextGen ATP Finals.

Still only 18 years old, the Canadian has reached No. 21 in the world (at time of writing this) and figures to keep climbing through the ranks. Though he’s turned pro all the way back in 2017, he’s only really been in our collective consciousness since the launch of this season. This, in turn, means that every day, week and month he has been living his best life: the hard work and the points to defend should come in 2020 but for now? Enjoy it, kid, it’s all gucci.

That said, the tweet above speaks of Auger-Aliassime possibly shocking the tennis world at either of the two remaining Grand Slams of the season. It’s still a hypothetical: so far the biggest win of his young career remains either a quarterfinal win over Borna Coric in Miami or a second-round win against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Indian Wells—but can he add another name to his kill list? We gotta say that we can kind of see it happen maybe?

Novak Djokovic

We start with the current best player in the world and, well, good luck here. At Roland-Garros, Novak Djokovic came to within a hair of good fortune of having the privilege to compete for a fourth Grand Slam title in a row, or more likely to get pummelled in the final by the next man on the list.

Why it will not happen against Djokovic: Sure, the Djoker’s play has suffered from bouts of inconsistency recently, but those haven’t happened at the majors. Should FAA ever beat Djokovic, it’s likely that it’ll happen in a best-of-three setting and at an event that Djokovic, like, doesn’t care much about.

Why it will happen against Djokovic: If Auger-Aliassime is to beat Djokovic, it will be because he catches the Serb on a day where things don’t work out well for him. The Canadian is a precocious and well-rounded player, but Djokovic is perhaps the single most well-rounded player we’ve ever seen; a win for the former would be more telling of the latter than vice-versa.

Rafael Nadal

No matter what happens the rest of the way, Rafael Nadal can rest easy knowing he’s done his part in the tennis season during the clay court season. The Spaniard is still great in 2019, but the hill you face in a match against him does not feel as insurmountable as it once did.

Why it will not happen against Nadal: FAA better hope the draw pits him against Nadal early on at Wimbledon, because the Spaniard seemingly gets better the more he plays. A quick overview of his career Grand Slam performance timeline seems to say that when Nadal loses at a Grand Slam, he tends to do so early on and spectacularly.

Why it will happen against Nadal: Auger-Aliassime could very well overcome Rafa because the matches at Grand Slams will occur on grass and hard courts, two surfaces perfectly suited to his play and working against Nadal’s style. Not only that, but before a semifinal berth a year ago, Nadal’s results at Wimbledon since his win in 2010 had been extremely pedestrian. If FAA beats him, it’s likely coming at Wimbledon.

Roger Federer

The Swiss is the final and third member of the Big Three referenced in the tweet above.

Why it will not happen against Federer: What stands out most in Roger Federer’s career, perhaps even more than the 20 Grand Slam titles, is his consistency ever since he first captured a major at the 2003 Wimbledon: since then, he’s made the quarterfinals or better at 53 of the 61 Grand Slams he competed in. What we’re saying is that Federer will not lose against Auger-Aliassime at a major this season.

Why it will happen against Federer: Yeah no, sorry we have nothing.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG

Will the real WTA champion please stand up?

Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon wonders what’s behind the extreme parity of the first quarter of this women’s tennis season.

It’s the age-old, the “chicken or egg” question if you will but transposed to women’s tennis.

So far in 2019, the WTA has held 15 different tournaments that have been won by… 15 different players.

Wait, really? Yes, really.

Every single week that we’ve had an event, a new champion has emerged and we’ve yet to crown a repeat winner. Some will say that this is really pretty on-brand for women’s tennis if we look at the previous 15 years or so, that it’s just that a sport that’s always been characterized by parity has been moreso than usual recently. That the sport has always been the place for parity and scarcely has there been a central force, beyond Serena Williams, who overwhelmed the entire competition over the past decade.

Part of it has been that we draw this conclusion when we compare women’s tennis to its men counterpart, which has been blessed with a golden generation where perhaps the three best players in history all managed to compete in the same period together at once.

What we mean to say is that this isn’t totally fair to the WTA, but we’ll get back to this idea.

For now let’s focus on our central idea, our chicken and our egg if you will. Such parity in women’s tennis has led us to wonder an underlying cause: is this seemingly lack of dominant players a symptom of great depth, or is it the other way around? (We’re well aware that it’s not exactly a chicken and egg situation. Whatever.)

Knowing what we know in 2019, it does appear like this run has coincided with the ascent of a good number of promising players, ones like Bianca Andreescu who has managed to take the entire world by storm in her first real foray into professional tennis. The parity we see also comes as a result of a number of other players, still relatively young and promising like Belinda Bencic or Ashleigh Barty, finally enjoying a sustained run of excellence.

Perhaps the actual surprising thing about this sudden parity that’s not so sudden is that it comes right when we thought we were entering the Naomi Osaka era. The Japanese is the current best player in the world and holder of the most recent two Grand Slam titles, and she’s looked like the type of player who had the poise and mental might to conquer all and to stay at the top.

She’s also still just 21 years old, so perhaps it’s entirely expected to see her struggle a little bit as she steps into the limelight and tries to emerge from the considerable shadow of Serena Williams’s on women’s tennis. It’s one thing to get to the top but it’s quite another to stay at the top—and yet, Osaka remains at the top, even as she’s struggled so far in 2019.

Now, remember when we said this isn’t totally fair to the WTA? Well it just so happens that men’s tennis has had a similarly parity-rich start to the 2019 season, with no fewer than 19 different champions for 19 tournaments before—who else?—Roger Federer grabbed a second crown in Miami. Plus, while men’s tennis has been basking in the afterglow of a golden generation, this wasn’t always the case. Glance over the 1998 ATP season Wikipedia page, or even the 1999 one, and you’ll see that it’s pretty slim pickings.

Just like it did for the ATP, this will not last and we’ll see a repeat winner before long. Probably. And yet, we’re writing this as Madison Keys and Caroline Wozniacki battle for the Charleston Open, with the former emerging victorious in two sets to none.

You guessed it, it’s her first title of 2019.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG