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Felix Auger-Aliassime, free of disappointment

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

You wanted to see Felix Auger-Aliassime play Novak Djokovic on Manic Monday at Wimbledon. I wanted to see Felix Auger-Aliassime play Novak Djokovic on Manic Monday at Wimbledon. Sure, plenty of people in the tennis community (though not in France, and not anyone who works with Ugo Humbert) are sad that Felix-Djokovic won’t take place. There is always something special about seeing a gifted young player face an iconic champion, much as we saw in Australia this year when Stefanos Tsitsipas played Roger Federer. There is a naturally deflated feeling among many tennis observers due to Felix’s Friday loss at the All England Club.

Yet, sadness in the face of an unfulfilled longing is not nearly the same thing as a true disappointment, a genuine life moment in which we feel that something SHOULD have happened, but DIDN’T happen, and it’s not right at all.

Disappointment is connected not to hopes, but to expectations. Disappointment carries a measure of severity with it. This particular human feeling — and the word we use to capture it — is not a “candy store” emotion. In other words, “disappointment” is not something felt when our favorite flavor of candy isn’t available. There is no real significance attached to that.

Similarly, disappointment is not something we feel when we work at a decent-paying job which enables us to provide for our families… but it’s not the dream job we might have longed for. Not all of us can make a million dollars a year. Should we ALL be disappointed? Of course not.

We can’t be disappointed by everything, or more precisely, by every small detail of our lives. The big things? Sure, but not the “candy store” items.

We can and should be disappointed when our children turn to a life of crime and waywardness… but not when our children pursue a wholesome life path which is nevertheless different from the one we might secretly (or overtly) have wanted.

We can’t force career expectations on others. They have to evolve in their own time.

This brings us back to Felix Auger-Aliassime and disappointment.

Yes, we wanted the match with Djokovic, but Felix is 18. He entered Wimbledon without a single major-tournament match victory. Felix has had a very encouraging 2019 season, but he is just beginning to learn how to carry himself and his body through a full ATP season. This is all very new for him, and we have all seen how tricky grass is even for young players whose games are suited for it — just ask Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost in round one at this Wimbledon.

Just ask 20-year-old Roger Federer, who lost in round one to Mario Ancic at Wimbledon in 2002.

You can place expectations on Felix if you WANT to — it’s a free country — but you CAN’T if you’re a serious tennis observer with any sense of proportion, contextual awareness, and overall understanding of the sport.

Expectations properly belong to athletes — or beyond sports, any performers — who have been through a full range of situations often enough to know how to handle them.

Felix is not particularly close to that point of experience and wisdom — not because he is failing in any sense.

HE IS 18 YEARS OLD!

When do we express true disappointment with our fellow human beings?

“You ought to know better.”

“That is beneath you. You have proved you are much better than this.”

“I know you’re not that kind of person. How COULD YOU?”

And so on.

We are disappointed in other people when they betray us, or when their failure to do something we asked of them is profound and important, precisely because there was a highly established common agreement that performing the task should not have been difficult.

Are we SERIOUSLY going to carry that attitude toward an 18-year-old just beginning to make his way through the tour? Is that how much hype we are lavishing upon Felix before we allow him to grow?

HE IS 18 YEARS OLD!

For a really good example of what rates as a disappointment in 2019, consider Nikoloz Basilashvili. He is 27 years old. He is in a much more advanced stage of his career, and he hasn’t done squat this year.

THAT is a disappointment. A player who has spent many years trying to figure this sport out; finally achieved a measure of traction late in 2018, at age 26; and entered 2019 with so much promise has crashed and burned.

On a smaller scale of relative measurement, consider Felix’s countryman, Denis Shapovalov.

Shapo burst onto the scene in late 2017. 2018 was an expectedly difficult season for him — he took his lumps as a teenager, getting used to opponents figuring out his lefty game and having more detailed scouting reports on him. One could reasonably have expected some progress and development in 2019 at age 20, but it hasn’t happened.

I wouldn’t call this year a HUGE disappointment — not for a 20-year-old — but it is certainly much more of a disappointment than Felix’s Wimbledon ever could be. Shapo has begun to make the rounds in tennis, cycling through the various seasons. Felix is just getting started.

Sure, we know that Felix has the makings of a decorated and massively famous tennis player. We can all see the potential he has. This does not mean he should be conquering the world as a teenager, or that when he loses, it is unacceptable.

When anyone insists on using the word “disappointment” or feeling “disappointed” by something an 18-year-old athlete does — and that thing is trivial (as opposed to committing a serious criminal offense or something of that nature) — the whole notion of disappointment is taken far away from its intended application or purpose.

You can’t — realistically — be disappointed in someone who is just beginning to learn how to do his job.

If you are, I hope your first day at the new job is extremely difficult, and that your boss, instead of firing you, gently and kindly explains that it will take time for you to learn the ropes.

Disappointment? Felix Auger-Aliassime doesn’t warrant it, and he is not going to warrant it anytime soon.

Can we give teenagers a little time and space, please? Thanks.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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