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He’s A Rising Tennis Star, But He Just Can’t Win A Final

Félix Auger-Aliassime, who opens his Wimbledon campaign on Tuesday, is the youngest player in the top 20 of men’s professional tennis. The 20-year-old Canadian is poised to lead the sport once the Big Three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer eventually retire. As a teenager, he was already following in their footsteps, becoming the youngest five-time ATP Tour finalist since Nadal in 2004-05.

Now if only Auger-Aliassime could win a tournament final.

Auger-Aliassime is one of only two men in the Open era, which started 53 years ago, who have played eight tour-level singles finals and not won a title, according to the ATP. France’s Julien Benneteau retired in 2018 with an 0-10 finals record.

“It’s a good feeling to end the career without a regret,” Benneteau said at the time. “Of course, I wish I could have won a singles title on the tour, but this is the way it is. I had beautiful success in doubles with a [French Open] title, the bronze medal in the Olympics. I didn’t want to trade one of these titles against a singles title on the tour.”

Benneteau was competitive in nearly all 10 of his singles finals. He forced a third set in half of them, and he even held a match point in the 2013 Kuala Lumpur championship against Portugal’s João Sousa. Auger-Aliassime, however, has yet to have such close calls. In his eight finals, he’s lost all 16 sets. Half the time, he has lost to lower-ranked players.

The widest ranking gap was earlier this month at the grass-court final in Stuttgart, Germany, when Auger-Aliassime was ranked No. 21 and lost to Marin Čilić, the 2017 Wimbledon finalist, who was No. 47.

“Look, today I’m not facing a final, I’m facing Marin Čilić, you know, it’s two different things,” Auger-Aliassime said after the 7-6, 6-3 loss. “I think there’s been times in finals where I didn’t play my best, and I felt like I wasn’t playing good. But this time around, in the first set, I had chances. He had some. I felt like it was close. But overall, I just felt like he was a better player than me.”

Auger-Aliassime’s performance suffers in a number of different statistical categories when he plays in finals. On his serve, compared to his career averages, he hits fewer aces, has slightly more double faults and wins fewer points. He also wins fewer points when he’s returning, although he converts more break points than usual.

Throughout his career, Auger-Aliassime has won 51 percent of the points he’s played. But in finals, he wins only about 44 percent of all points. That 7-point drop is drastic in a sport where a 3-percentage-point difference in the share of points won can be the margin between a player ranked in the top 10 and one in the 40s.

The good news for Auger-Aliassime is that you don’t have to be great in finals to be great at tennis.

Pat DuPré of the United States and Cédric Pioline of France each needed 10 finals to win his first title. DuPré reached No. 14 in the rankings, and Pioline went on to win four more titles and climb to No. 5 in the world. The Frenchman also played in two Grand Slam finals.

Andy Murray started 0-4 in Grand Slam finals but has since won three Grand Slam titles, including two Wimbledon titles. Murray is now 3-8 overall in Grand Slam finals, and on Monday he defeated 24th-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round of this year’s Wimbledon. Murray’s former coach Ivan Lendl also started 0-4 in Grand Slam title matches but eventually won eight major championships, good for a three-way tie with Andre Agassi and Jimmy Connors for sixth on the Open-era Grand Slam titles list.

It’s worth noting, however, that Murray and Lendl avoided such troubles in ATP finals. Murray is 46-22 in tour-level finals, and Lendl finished 94-52, including 8-11 in Grand Slam title matches.

Auger-Aliassime could change his luck in the next two weeks at Wimbledon. He has yet to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal, but grass is his best surface, and he’s coming off a semifinal run in Halle, Germany, where he beat eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer.

He might also improve his chances if he can make peace with the idea that he might never win a title, similar to what Murray did after losing in the 2012 Wimbledon final, his fourth consecutive defeat in a Grand Slam final.

“I kind of accepted that I may never win a Grand Slam, but that I was doing everything that I could, to give myself the best chance to do that. And I was okay with that,” Murray said in 2017. “Once I sort of got that into my head, that I was working as hard as I could and doing the best that I could, I was fine with that.”

Two months after that admission, Murray won his first Grand Slam title at the 2012 U.S. Open.

Jonathon Braden is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., who has covered tennis for the past 10 years.