2022 in review: Félix Auger-Aliassime serves notice to tennis world

The 22-year-old Montrealer captures four titles, leads Canada to its first Davis Cup title and jumps to career-high No. 6 ranking.

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Until this year, Félix Auger-Aliassime was known as the best tennis player never to win a title on the ATP Tour.

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The 22-year-old Montrealer left that dubious distinction behind in February, when he won in Rotterdam, ending an 0-for-8 streak in finals. By the end of the season, Auger-Aliassime added three more titles, winning on consecutive weeks in Florence, Antwerp and Basel.

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Auger-Aliassime checked off a number of boxes in 2022.

His four titles secured him a spot in the eight-man ATP Tour Finals for the first time.

He solidified his position in the top 10 in the rankings, finishing the year at a career-high No. 6.

And he capped the year by leading Canada to its first Davis Cup title. Auger-Aliassime was 3-0 in singles play in the knockout phase in Spain and paired with Vasek Pospisil to win the deciding doubles match against Italy in the semifinals.

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A Canadian squad made up of inexperienced players was eliminated in the qualifying stage by the Netherlands, but Canada received a second chance when it was selected as a wild-card for the finals after Russia was barred because of its invasion of Ukraine. Auger-Aliassime answered the call for the first stage of the finals and assured Canada a place in the final eight by defeating top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz. He has a 3-0 record against the Spanish teenager.

Tennis Canada is hoping to secure long-term Davis Cup commitments from its top players and the task will be easier in 2023, because the defending champion is assured a place in the finals.

Qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals was Auger-Aliassime’s goal for the season, but he is not one to rest on his laurels.

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“I’m more and more convinced, and the people around me are, too, that I have what it takes to be No. 1 in the world,” Auger-Aliassime said after his three-peat in the fall. “Of course, I still have to deliver the goods, which is never easy.”

Delivering the goods would include a Grand Slam title, something players-turned-commentators John McEnroe and Brad Gilbert have predicted for Auger-Aliassime since he was a teenager. He is 6-foot-4 and has a big serve that is perfect for hard courts, but his best chance might be at the French Open. This year, he became only the third player in history to take perennial French Open winner Rafael Nadal to five sets at Roland Garros.

Denis Shapovalov struggled for most of the year, but he reached the Vienna final in October and joined Pospisil for a key doubles win against Germany in the Davis Cup quarter-finals. He also joined Auger-Aliassime to win the ATP Cup for Canada in January.

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Pospisil, whose resumé includes a Wimbledon doubles title, is determined to re-establish himself as a singles player after back surgery and he returned to the top 100 at year’s end at No. 99.

Montrealer Gabriel Diallo, who made his Davis Cup debut this year, won the Granby Challenger and has left the University of Kentucky after three and a half years to turn pro. The Wildcats will still have seven Canadians on their roster because Canadian junior champ Jaden Weekes of LaSalle will enrol at Kentucky in January.

On the women’s side, Laval native Leylah Fernandez saw her ranking drop from a career-high 13 to No. 40 because she lost in the second round of the U.S. Open after reaching the final in 2021.

The 20-year-old missed two months after suffering a stress fracture in her foot in the quarter-finals of the French Open, but she had a solid year, defending her title in Monterrey, Mexico, and banking more than US$1 million in prize money.

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Bianca Andreescu, who won the U.S. Open in 2019, returned to the WTA Tour full time after two years marred by injuries and finished the year at No. 45.

“It’s tough when young players have success and then have to defend those points,” said Sylvain Bruneau, the captain of Canada’s Billie Jean King Cup team. “But Leylah and Bianca give us a solid base and the goal now is to develop more depth.”

The feel-good story of the year was 32-year-old Rebecca Marino, who returned to the top 100 for the first time in a decade with a year-end ranking of 64. Marino took five years off to deal with mental health issues, but has made steady progress since resuming her career in 2018.

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