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Stu Cowan: Montreal’s Félix Auger-Aliassime Powers into Wimbledon quarter-finals

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — It was going to take a lot more than a white ball cap to help Poland’s Piotr Matuszewski on Court 9 Wednesday morning against Montreal’s Félix Auger-Aliassime.

After quickly falling behind 3-0, Matuszewski decided to put on his white cap. It was either to protect himself from the bright sun above — it actually does come out here sometimes — or from the shine on Auger-Aliassime’s game.

It didn’t work.

Auger-Aliassime, 15, put on an impressive display of power tennis in the third round of the junior boys’ event, rolling to a 6-0 first-set win over his 18-year-old opponent in only 19 minutes. The dreaded bagel.

If there was a mercy rule in tennis, this looked like the perfect time to use it.

But give the Polish kid credit for not giving up. He changed his game plan, coming to the net more often, and fought back in the second set before losing 7-5. Auger-Aliassime, who came within one point of winning the junior championship last month at the French Open, advanced to the quarter-finals here and is looking to become only the second Canadian male to win a junior Grand Slam singles title after Vancouver’s Filip Peliwo won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2012.

Auger-Aliassime, who finished with eight aces and 29 winners against Matuszewski, isn’t Canada’s only hope here. Also advancing to the quarter-finals Wednesday was 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., who beat Korea’s Yunseong Chung 7-6 (2), 6-3. Auger-Aliassime is the No. 3 seed, while Shapovalov is seeded fifth. Top-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and No. 2 seed Ulises Blanch of the United States also advanced to the final eight.

Auger-Aliassime said he tried to force things too much in the second set after breaking to go up 2-0, but his first set was an impressive performance — especially for such a young kid.

“It was the kind of beginning where everything was working, everything was going in, and it just felt like I was floating on the court,” he said.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Watching from behind dark sunglasses on a front-row bench — there is only one row of benches on each side of Court 9 — was Guillaume Marx, Auger-Aliassime’s Tennis Canada coach. Marx obviously liked what he saw.

“His tennis potential is very motivating,” Marx said. “Besides that he’s a great kid and, for me, maybe that’s more important. That’s why it’s good to be helping him.”

Marx joined Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre in 2007 to oversee the development of the country’s best young male players and coached Milos Raonic when he first broke into the pro ranks. Before coming to Canada, Marx was a coach with the French Tennis Federation and worked with a young Gaël Monfils, saying Auger-Aliassime is at about the same level at the same age. The 29-year-old Monfils is ranked No. 16 in the world.

Marx has been coaching Auger-Aliassime for more than two years, but still remembers being impressed the first time he saw him in action at age 11 because of his ability to take the ball early so young. The coach added there has been a huge physical difference in the last four years as Auger-Aliassime has shot up to about 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds.

But it’s the teenager’s mental game that impresses his coach as much as his physical abilities and the intensity he puts into all his shots.

“Mental toughness, or I would say the approach that he has, he’s very resilient,” said Marx, a former junior Davis Cup captain for France. “I think that’s his best mental characteristic, because sometimes mentally he has some difficulties as well, losing some matches that he shouldn’t lose. But I think he’s reacting really well to the feedback.”

The coach also likes the fact tennis isn’t the only interest in Auger-Aliassime’s life.

“He likes all sports,” Marx said. “He’s not even 16 and he’s very open minded. He can talk about almost anything that’s going on in the news. He plays piano pretty well, too. I think he knows already that there is a life outside the tennis courts, so I think that’s good.”

Auger-Aliassime said he likes his coach’s blunt honesty when telling him what he’s doing wrong and also looks to him for support when he’s on the court.

“He’s really going to push me and he’s going to have eye contact,” Auger-Aliassime said. “He’s really going to help me through the match.”

Auger-Aliassime didn’t need a lot of help Wednesday. Up next for the Montrealer is Alex De Minaur, the seventh seed from Australia who has lost his previous two meetings with Auger-Aliassime.

De Minaur will need to bring a lot more than a white cap.

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