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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, June 1, 2024

Felix Auger-Aliassime has faced the game’s greatest champions on the biggest stages in the sport.

Few shrink safe space as quickly as Carlos Alcaraz, but Auger-Aliassime has big ambition ahead of their French Open fourth-round showdown.

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A resurgent Auger-Aliassime wrapped up a 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 win over an apparently banged-up Ben Shelton setting up a fourth-round blockbuster vs. Wimbledon winner Alcaraz.

It’s a clash Auger-Aliassime calls “as big of a challenge as it gets.”

Still, the Canadian knows what it takes to meet the moment.

Madrid finalist Auger-Aliassime has won nine of his last 11 matches and is one of the few players who owns a winning head-to-head vs. Alcaraz. He’s won three of their five meetings, including their lone Grand Slam clash at the 2021 US Open.

Auger-Aliassime aims for the upset bolstered by the belief in his fine form.

“In terms of the challenge, yeah, it's the first time we play on clay, so that's obviously different,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I beat him in indoors. He beat me twice in Indian Wells. So very different conditions now.

“First time since US Open a while ago when he was just 18 that we played in a Grand Slam. All these things together make it different, but obviously, it's as big of a challenge as it gets. You play one of the best players in the world. So it's always a special match against him or Novak or Jannik.

“But I'm feeling better and better I feel like I have more and more belief in my game and what I do. So, yeah, I think I have all the reasons to believe that I can win, but obviously, we know the challenge. It's a tough one.”

Shrinking the service box to the size of a sand box and carving out audacious angles, Alcaraz left big-hitting Auger-Aliassime looking unsettled and overwhelmed at times on serve in their last meeting.

An oppressive Alcaraz outclassed Auger-Aliassime 6-2, 6-3 charging into Indian Wells round of 16 last March. In that match, Alcaraz won 46 percent of points played on Auger-Aliassime’s first serve converted four of seven break points and persistently punished the former world No. 6 in forehand exchanges.

In the Roland Garros rematch, Auger-Aliassime, who has dropped serve just four times in three tournament wins, knows he must land the first serve and do damage with the first strike.

“Obviously, I go out tomorrow playing what I know, doing what I do well,” Auger-Aliassime said. “If I do that, then let's see during the match how it goes. Obviously I'm always open to adapt as the match goes on to see what I'm doing well or less good and what he's doing well, and adapt my game and my tactics.

“But, yeah, I'm going to prepare like I prepare for every match, focus on myself, and let's see what level he brings, let's see what I bring. It's going to be a good match, yeah.”

Though Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal’s uncle and original coach, is no longer part of Auger-Aliassime’s team—he has his coach, Frederic Fontag, and his father, Sam Aliassime, in his box—-he remains in touch with Toni Nadal.

Auger-Aliassime said among the lessons he learned working with Uncle Toni, there are three he often reflects on:

*Consistent commitment to improvement
*Facing adversity with humility
*Discipline to do the daily work required of elite professionals.

“I like his philosophy, the way he approaches a career with what he went through with Rafa. We can learn a lot from what he's saying,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I just like to be open and listen to what he has to say and try to absorb as much information as I can from him.

“I like the way he demands high qualities, consistency, what to improve on one's game. I like to be humble when I face adversity, when I make mistakes. It's important to be demanding with one's self to try to reach the highest level possible, to accept losses as well, when they are actually very hard to take on.”

Photo credit: Mateo Villalba/Getty