The story of Felix Auger-Aliassime in his first Masters 1000 semifinal on Friday at the Miami Open is a simple one. Felix outplayed Isner for the better part of two sets but choked when serving for each set. He didn’t play a poor match as a whole, but he played poorly in the biggest moments. An 18-year-old responded the way an 18-year-old often would in such a situation. A winnable match turned into a 7-6, 7-6 loss.
Is this bad? Well, losing is generally worse than winning, but there is a difference between being unhappy and being discouraged. I would like to think we can all sit here and — for anyone who wanted either a Felix-Shapo final (against good friend and fellow Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov) or a Felix-Federer final — acknowledge that this is not a harmful loss for Auger-Aliassime.
Young players are going to have these moments.
It is worth bringing up a basic point about how we evaluate solo-athlete sports.
Team sports involve the fundamental complication of teammates. Great individual athletes might be fully realized, fully brilliant competitors, but they still need quality teammates — good-enough teammates — to win championships.
Solo-athlete sports are reasonably viewed as manifestations of what that athlete ALONE is capable of achieving.
Within this prism of solo-athlete competition (tennis and golf), it is a basic reality that for almost anyone (1985 Boris Becker at Wimbledon, 1982 Mats Wilander at Roland Garros, 2005 Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, 1989 Michael Chang at Roland Garros, or early-1990s Monica Seles being a few very conspicuous exceptions), these confrontations with nerves and pressure will need to be worked through. There will be stumbles and false starts and hiccups and yips. There will be moments when pressure becomes suffocating and new, or if not new, certainly powerful and overwhelming.
Those things can’t be avoided, and those things will claim their share of scalps. Learning how to succeed almost always demands the reality of failure. It is that failure which teaches young solo athletes how to improve, to get it right the next time or the time after that.
It is GREAT that Felix Auger-Aliassime had this moment against John Isner, because he gained — at a very early age — a realization of how devastating the effects of pressure can be.
Better to get this kind of a tennis lesson at 18 than at 20 or 21.
A final note here: When a 27-year-old tennis player stumbles the way Auger-Aliassime did, it isn’t a positive development. When an athlete with ample experience is still not learning lessons which should have been learned and applied at a much earlier age, this kind of loss (to Isner) would properly be seen as a problem and a missed opportunity.
For Felix, it is a portal for growth.
If we are still sitting here in 2028 with this kind of event occurring, we will be in Ana Ivanovic or Elena Dementieva territory.
That’s nine years away, though.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. FAA is still primed for takeoff.
Just don’t demand that he has to leave the ground right now.