Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime launched himself into illustrious company when he won the Open de Sopra Steria in Lyon, France on Sunday.
At 16 years and 10 months, the Montrealer became the seventh youngest tennis player in history to win an ATP Challenger title, sandwiched between Rafael Nadal at No. 6 and Novak Djokovic at eighth.
The star-studded company had the well-spoken teen feeling "quite proud" on Monday. But better yet, the momentous accomplishment shows he's clearly on the proper path.
"I really see it as motivation, and a sign that I'm doing the right things," Auger-Aliassime said on a conference call. "And after all it's just staying me, I want to be a unique player, I want to be as good as I can be, I want to be the best version of me, so that's what it's all about.
"But obviously it's really encouraging."
Auger-Aliassime defeated world No. 171 Mathias Bourge of France 6-4, 6-1 in the final to become the youngest Challenger winner in eight years, and send his world ranking skyrocketing up 105 places to No. 231. He's the youngest player to crack the Top 250 since Juan Martin del Potro in 2005.
"Every tournament I play, I always believe in my chances," Auger-Aliassime said. "I didn't feel like my level was far from these guys, and I think I proved it matche after match. It was a tough start of the tournament, winning my first three matches in three sets, (but) what I think what I did great in this tournament I fought well mentally, I stayed positive on every moment of every match, and at the end ofthe week it paid off because I played my best tennis."
Last September, the hard-hitting and athletic Auger-Aliassime captured the U.S. Open boys title, dispatching Serbia's Miomir Kecmanovic in a mere 57 minutes. That victory was a turning point as the six-foot-three player and his coach Guillaume Marx decided to step on the accelerator, making the move from boys to men, and committing to the ATP Challenger Tour.
"We decided to give myself a chance to play more and more pro events. . . and this year I keep on confirming I'm at the right place, I'm able to play at a high level with the guys in Futures (the third rung of the men's professional tennis ladder), and now I'm at the Challenger level, I think playing more and more tournaments of this level got me used to it," Auger-Aliassime said.
"There was an adaptation to do, it took a little bit of time, but probably shorter than I thought."
Auger-Aliassime was the third Canadian to win a Challenger Tour title this season. Denis Shapovalov — who teamed up with Auger-Aliassime to win the boys doubles title at the 2015 U.S. Open, the first Canadian junior Grand Slam double title in 25 years — won the the Drummondville National Bank Challenger in March. Vasek Pospisil captured the Busan Challenger last month.
Auger-Aliassime said it was a tough adjusting to high-level competition in the main draws of Challengers week in and week out, but he's adapting nicely.
"I got more used to the level of these guys. And now I think this week it really paid off," he said. "It was really tough mentally, it was tough physically also, I was pushing myself to the limits almost every match. But at the end of the week I found the little edge to get over these guys."
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press