Saturday, March 9, 2019 - Felix Auger-Aliassime plays Stefanos Tsitsipas in the 2nd round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Elise Sterck/BNP Paribas Open)
You read that right.
The talk of this year’s BNP Paribas Open, 18-year-old Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, was barely into his teenage years back when he last played Japanese jackrabbit Nishioka, who needed three tough sets to get past the then-child prodigy at a small event in Granby, Quebec.
Nearly five years later, the two are slated to face each other in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Monday – and their careers couldn’t be any more different. Now ranked at No. 58 in the world, 2019 has been a breakthrough season for Auger-Aliassime at the pro level. He reached his first tour-level final just last month – becoming the youngest player ever to reach the final of an ATP 500 event – and, on Saturday, claimed his first Top 10 win over former junior rival Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Nishioka, on the other hand, has also risen up the ranks considerably since 2015 – peaking at a career-high of No. 58 back in March of 2017, but is currently in the midst of a comeback following a career-threatening knee injury. Now ranked No. 74, he returns to familiar and favorable territory. The five-foot-seven Japanese reached the fourth round in Indian Wells two years ago before losing a heartbreaker to eventual finalist Stan Wawrinka. One event later, at the Miami Open, he tore his ACL and has been on the journey back ever since.
Monday’s Stadium 2 matchup pits all-out explosive aggression of the Canadian young gun against the nimble movement and tenacious lefty defensive skills of Tsu, Japan’s Nishikoa. The 1-0 head-to-head in favor of Nishioka is likely not to mean anything in the grand scheme of the third-round desert clash, but the 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory is one that the 23-year-old can still recall.
“I won, but it was very close match,” recounted Nishioka following a straight-sets upset of No. 21 seed Roberto Bautista Agut on Saturday. “He was already good at that time. Yeah.”
Time to see just how much things have changed – for both – since FAA was 14.