Having first visited Italy as a kid, Felix Auger-Aliassime has a host of fond memories from time spent in the southern European nation.
Some of those have come on court — he lifted the first of three back-to-back ATP Tour titles in Florence in October — but the 22 year old’s most treasured experience in the country is something a little less recent.
“There are recent ones of course,” the Canadian told ATPTour.com at the season finale in Turin. “Winning in Florence, that was a great recent memory, but I think overall in my life, just the first time that I came. I was about 12 years old, coming to play tennis everywhere around Italy from Canada.
“It was just crazy. There were just so many good memories of being here with the other guys who played with me, friends that I was travelling with. We would play tournaments every night and have a gelato every night, and it was good times. You’re 11 or 12 years old and you’re just playing tennis and travelling in Italy. It’s special, so those are good memories.”
Auger-Aliassime has already added to his Italian successes this week in Turin, where he bounced back from an opening defeat to Casper Ruud by sealing his maiden Nitto ATP Finals victory on Tuesday against Rafael Nadal. The 22-year-old is relishing the opportunity to compete at the prestigious season finale for the first time.
“Well it’s really a dream come true, it’s special,” said Auger-Aliassime. “It just means that you’ve had a great year and that you are one of the best players in the world. For me, it’s really on the ‘to-do’ list, your goal list in life, and it’s one that in my career I for sure wanted.
“To be able to do that for the first time, it’s an amazing feeling, the accomplishment is great. It would of course be surreal to win it all, it would be fantastic, but just to have qualified already feels great.”
The Canadian was delighted to seal his maiden win against his childhood idol Nadal, and he believes the stellar lineup at the Pala Alpitour is something that can help him raise his game further as he seeks to reach the semi-finals on tournament debut.
“It’s excitement, but it’s motivation as well,” said Auger-Aliassime, who plays Taylor Fritz on Thursday evening in his final Red Group match. “We kind of have a good mix of legends, with Rafa and Novak, and then all the others are [26 and under]. That’s also different… Not only are you playing legends, but you are playing great players of your time as well.”
So as he goes toe-to-toe with the best in the world this week in Turin, what off-court aspects of Italy appeal to the Canadian? Like his Nitto ATP Finals rivals Novak Djokovic and Casper Ruud, Auger-Aliassime has already visited the historic Colosseum in Rome, so he would opt for a trip to climb the active volcano Mount Vesuvius instead, if given a choice.
The prospect of a visit to a top-division Italian football ground like the Olympic Grande Torino Stadium (the home of Torino F.C., which stands directly adjacent to the Pala Alpitour), also appeals to the Canadian, more so than going to watch the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. “[I would choose a] Serie A football match,” said Auger-Aliassime. “I think seeing the atmosphere would be something very unique, like a rivalry or something, that would be epic.”
When asked about the first things come to mind when he hears the word ‘Italy’, two things stand out for the four-time ATP Tour champion. “I think of great architecture and amazing food,” said Auger-Aliassime. “Probably pizza [is my favourite Italian food]. They have it good everywhere. It’s not the most sophisticated thing to eat, but it’s the one I love to eat the most.”
That love of pizza does not stretch to Pizza Marinara, a pizza made without cheese that is a speciality in Naples. “Probably cheese [is my favourite topping],” said the Canadian. “[I’m not a big fan of pizza without cheese.”
Yet when it comes to his own Italian cooking skills, the World No. 6 is more confident with a different local staple. “Any pasta [I cook] I would say is decent,” said Auger-Aliassime. “I think [my best Italian dish] would probably be pasta.”