To get a wild card in an ATP 500 when you're 18 and you're a "stranger", you have to have something special. Felix Auger-Aliassime has it, no doubt. The organizers of the Rio tournament know this and this is why they have rewarded the young Canadian for an invitation. They will not regret it. It will be the last Sunday and, in case of victory, could give to this fun 2019 edition a small historical perfume, of those whose nose still perceives the smell of the years after, when we say to ourselves: "it was here, and that week, that it all started".
Felix Auger-Aliassime was impressed by the start of the carioca tournament, not undergoing a single round in his first three victories against Fabio Fognini, Christian Garín and Jaume Munar. He left his first set Saturday against this old man by Pablo Cuevas, but this new success is perhaps more significant. Because the pole, that of a potential first final, was even more impacting, and that it had to navigate in the sometimes stressful waters. In fact, the Canadian sometimes bowed, but in the head, he always held up well, to finally win 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
At home, the head is worth the arm
The first set was consistent with what we had seen: a quick break, from the third game, and a walk for the former US Open Juniors winner, whose serenity and authority did not fail to submit. And when he resumed the service of Cuevas in the first game of the next round, it was believed that the young Felix would calmly set sail towards another victory without incident.
But Pablo Cuevas suddenly increased his level of play, while his young rival showed some signs of precipitation. Result, a joke, a pause, and the Uruguayan, dying twenty minutes earlier, led 4-1 before taking a set anywhere shortly thereafter. It is here that Auger-Aliassime is strong, proving that, with him, the head is definitely worth it. It would be understood that he did not recover from this advantage of a set and a break, that he was rumbling, coexisting, even collapsing. But he found his soul boss in the field. He made the first move to bring the 3-0 in a hurry and keep this break until the end.
The youngest in the final of a 500
It will have been a last fright when it ended. At 5-3, 40-0, he saw flying three match points, the last after an unlikely point, a savage defense of Cuevas and a second to crush the network of Quebec. Again, it could have gamberger. But no. A great first and a cold-blooded volley and, two points later, the final was this time. Never before has a young player reached the final of an ATP 500.
Sunday, the story can be written in even more gold letters. Of this unlikely week, this final poster between Felix Auger-Aliassime and Laslo Djere is perhaps the least illogical. After all, they have, among them, released the two greatest series players, Fognini for one, Dominic Thiem for the other. The Serbian, 90th in the world coming to Rio, benefited from the Slovenian package Aljaz Bedene on Saturday. It will have the advantage of freshness. This may not be trivial. But who knows, Felix the lion may not have yet shown all the facets of his (immense) talent.