This season has been ripe with breakthroughs for both, whose rivalry in the junior days is finally about to spill over into the pros as the 20-year-old Greek takes on the 18-year-old Canadian tomorrow at the BNP Paribas Open in an exciting clash of the next generation of ATP talent.
Catalyzed by a run to the Rogers Cup final last summer, which remains his biggest final to date, Tsitsipas has since claimed two titles, an Australian Open semifinal finish and, just last week, a final at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships – all of which have launched him into the world’s Top 10.
Auger-Aliassime, on the other hand, had his first major moment in the spotlight just last month, when he defeated Fabio Fognini and a handful of seasoned clay-courters en route to the final at the Rio Open – a tournament played on the slowest of clay courts, a surface unfamiliar to Auger-Aliassime in his early days but that he has since found his feet on.
Yet on the high-bouncing, medium-slow hard court courts of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, it’ll be back to square one for these former junior rivals, set to resume what was, back in the junior days, a matchup owned by the Montreal native.
All three of their matches against each other at that level have gone the way of Auger-Aliassime, although much has changed since then – and the BNP Paribas Open wild card would be the first to admit that.
“He’s improved a lot, he’s a whole different player,” said Auger-Aliassime to Tennis Canada’s Tom Tebbutt, comparing the Tsitsipas of their junior days to the Tsitsipas now. “I just remember that I was able to pressure him, to make him move… Every time we played in juniors it was tough matches, really close. I’m expecting the best from him and we’ll see what I can do on my side.”
Tsitsipas’s picturesque groundstrokes, including a one-handed backhand that waves like a wand in the hands of a wizard, have drawn comparison to his childhood idol Roger Federer. Coupled with an unusual clarity in tactics for a player of just 20 years old, the Greek’s game and mystifying personality has turned heads amongst fans and foes that are slowly recognizing him as a future force to be reckoned with.
For his part, Auger-Aliassime has the more explosive yet less elegant shots. He might shank a forehand or two, but when his game is clicking as it has been for a month now, he’s able to batter his opponents into submission with dazzling intensity.
Given the length and unpredictability of any tennis career, it’s impossible to say if this is a rivalry we’ll be seeing in Grand Slam finals – but it’s certainly a battle of fire versus finesse that fans will want to see more of at any level if they continue their upward trend in 2019.
And all begins tomorrow.