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Félix Auger-AliassimeStephanie Myles/The Globe and Mail

In one rickety grandstand, the seats are demarcated with lines of white spray paint.

Once there, you might hear a child yelling for mum on an adjacent balcony while a small slice of tennis history unfolds on centre court.

When it rains (and it usually rains), there might be room for everyone in attendance to huddle in the bar tent.

If Wimbledon is tennis's acknowledged cathedral, the Granby Tennis Club, one of the stops on the well-trodden path to the big time, is more like a no-frills suburban chapel.

Grander stages await Montreal's Félix Auger-Aliassime. For now, he seems perfectly content to own this one.

Professional tennis is a brutal, Darwinian contest of wills. Fourteen-year-old boys aren't supposed to be this good at it.

Yet, there he is, plunging into volleys, mashing groundies and generally befuddling older players with his mix of power and guile.

Not every burgeoning player plays for a slot in the semi-finals in his first real exposure to the pro game. Auger-Aliassime, who shares a birthday with tennis legend Roger Federer, did just that on Friday evening.

Despite a rousing first-set comeback – he clawed back a 1-4 deficit by winning five straight games – Auger-Aliassime ran out of gas in a three-set loss (4-6, 6-2, 6-1) to fourth seed Yoshihito Nishioka, a 19-year-old lefty who is ranked 140th in the world.

Even in defeat, the teenager showed his run through the tournament was no accident.

But perhaps we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Hype is easily built and even more quickly deflated, so it's improvident to get too excited about a kid who is a couple of weeks shy of his 15th birthday.

But earlier this year Auger-Aliassime, a lanky 6-foot-1 righty who grew up in L'Ancienne-Lorette, a neighbourhood hard by the Quebec City airport, qualified for another Challenger event in Drummondville, Que.

He didn't play in the main draw because of a muscle strain – his showing was still enough for a spot in the record books: he became the first player born in the 21st century to earn an ATP point and world ranking (he sits at No. 1,237, but that will change next week when he moves into the top 800).

In Granby, he mowed through three opponents in the qualifying round and then became the youngest ever winner of a Challenger tournament match.

"He's a phenom, obviously. But he's 14. A lot can happen, so let's wait and see," said Eugène Lapierre, Tennis Canada's senior vice-president and the tournament director for the Montreal portion of the Rogers Cup. "I can't wait to see him in two or three years, but we've got some recent examples of what pressure can do to a young player."

To watch Auger-Aliassime is to be awed by his technical proficiency. He changes speeds, booms serves, uses spin, hits deftly-angled returns, covers the court like a tarp, volleys crisply – the full-meal deal.

At this week's National Bank Challenger – a $100,000 tournament on the ATP's second-tier circuit – Auger-Aliassime is showcasing his considerable promise alongside men, some of them twice his age.

There are ball kids older than him.

"I keep using the word incredible to describe it. I wish there was a better one, but there really isn't. It really is kind of hard to believe," Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau said.

Most players are big hitters nowadays (and Auger-Aliassime is certainly that), but what impresses more is his mental strength.

"He's relentless, he's like a boxer who just keeps coming," Laurendeau said.

A small example: During a service game in the second set of his second-round match against Barbadian pro Darian King (ranked 205th in the world), Auger-Aliassime airmailed a simple forehand that should have put him up 40-15.

He bellowed in frustration and immediately fired an emphatic ace to the deuce court.

One point later, the game was his.

The moment was mostly important because it came shortly after the rally that tilted the match.

Having won a see-saw first set 7-5, the Montrealer dropped the first two games of the second.

With the eighth-seeded King serving at 3-2, Auger-Aliassime worked himself into a break opportunity.

That sequence illustrated what Lapierre meant when he said "the way he manages his matches is simply amazing."

In a furious rally that saw the players thump 40-plus groundstrokes at each other, Auger-Aliassime patiently moved his opponent around.

Attacking King's back-hand side, he scuttled in from the baseline on a high, short ball to end the point with a pinpoint, devastating drop shot.

He celebrated like only a teenager can.

With the crowd on its feet, he looked toward his family, pointed at his right temple, then gave a triumphant, windmilling fist pump.

"Just the heat of emotion," Auger-Aliassime smiled afterward. "You don't really think about much during the rally, but I knew it was a pretty big moment and you have to stay tough in those. I was getting more and more tired, but I was thinking 'just one more, just one more.'"

He then held serve, broke King again, and closed out a 7-5, 6-3 win on his second match point.

No one who was there will argue the better player didn't win.

There is a tendency among younger players to bounce around the court as if they are overcaffeinated deer. While there is some of that energized impatience in Auger-Aliassime's game, there is also a great deal more.

There's preternatural poise and showmanship, but he also has the skills to go for winners from anywhere on the court.

As with most stories of overnight success, Auger-Aliassime's was several years in the making.

According to his father Sam, a tennis coach in his own right, young Félix picked up a racquet when he was four (his older sister Malika is also an accomplished junior player).

The story goes that he lost the first match he played and cried when he realized it meant he'd have to leave the court.

Though he only started playing at the National Tennis Centre full-time last fall, he joined the part-time, under-14 program two years earlier.

But his progress over the past 10 months has been nothing short of stunning.

He has climbed more than 500 spots in the world junior ranking – he currently sits 69th, which will give him entry to the qualifiers at junior Grand Slams.

Some of it has to do with a recent five-inch growth spurt (he was listed at 5-foot-8 last fall, but said "I didn't really pay attention to how much, I just know I've grown.")

"Being taller might allows me to get a few more balls, but really the turning point for me was coming to the National Training Centre full-time," he said.

It transpires another of the youngsters from the program was slated to play a quarter-final match Friday: 16-year-old Charlotte Robillard-Millette, the eighth-ranked junior player in the world.

But injuries can happen, as does life, and the people who run Tennis Canada's junior program are keenly mindful of the pitfalls of early success.

So, Auger-Aliassime will be brought along slowly.

Tennis Canada junior coach Jocelyn Robichaud said his chief concern is "to make sure he still enjoys playing the game. This all needs to be fun, not stressful. We try to make all the kids laugh a lot. The danger is he'll become a professional – not in terms of ranking but in terms of mentality – too quickly."

Media attention is one thing, but there are whispers of growing interest from agents, potential sponsors, and the like since his surprise showing in Drummondville.

But Auger-Aliassime seems keen to live up to reputation for unusual maturity.

"It's easy to get carried away, you get back to the room at night and open social media and there's lots of – I don't know – parasites, I guess," he said, laughing. "I just need to focus on playing my game and put all that stuff aside."

Yes, it's premature to anoint a 14-year-old player as anything other than a neat tale and a prospect to watch.

The point will become harder to argue if he keeps improving at this rate.

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