It is now an official happening.
Toni Nadal, the uncle and longtime coach of Rafael Nadal, will join Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime’s team for the clay-court season.
They will begin in Monte Carlo. Nadal will also be on hand in Madrid and then at Roland Garros.
It is not a “co-coaching” situation, as Frédéric Fontang remains Auger-Aliassime’s full-time coach.
Rather, it is an “extra-added”, a mentorship the team hopes will add those little extra touches to help the 20-year-old Canadian take the next step in his career.
A long time in the making
Auger-Aliassime spent 10 days at the Nadal Academy in Mallorca during the off-season, with Uncle Toni on hand observing, advising and feeling out the territory.
It was a big of a trial run, in essence.
And it went very well.
Auger-Aliassime told Open Court in Melbourne that he expected Nadal could be on board going forward. But nothing was signed, sealed and delivered.
Now, it’s official.
Out of the box for Rafa vs FAA
Toni Nadal told a few news outlets today that if Auger-Aliassime ended up meeting his nephew on court, he would not be in the player’s box out of respect for both, and because he still works for his nephew as director of the Nadal Academy (and because Rafa is his nephew).
“When they made the offer, I told him to come to the Academy for 10 days, to see if I could be useful to him. I hadn’t considered the possibility of training another player,” Nadal said. “Knowing that, as the academy director, I can collaborate with a player who has the highest aspirations is a challenge that particularly appeals to me.
“I couldn’t work with a person who wasn’t respectful and didn’t have values. I had the chance to work my entire life with a boy who has been respectful, and has projected a good image. Felix is a boy who, in theory, should be among the best in the world in the years to come,” Nadal added, according to Marca. “It’s always enjoyable to work with someone like that.”
First glimpse of FAA at 17
Nadal said the first time he saw Auger-Aliassime play, it was against one of the Nadal Academy players, Jaume Munar.
“He was 16 or 17 and I felt then that he could be one of the best in the world,” Nadal told the media. “Now, he must work to confirm that.”
That occasion was a Challenger on clay in Italy in the spring of 2018, where Munar squeezed through 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-5
The two played again a few months later, in the second round of qualifying at Roland Garros.
Munar won 6-3, 6-3 (and played brilliantly; he was all over the net, even on clay). Auger-Aliassime, on the other hand, did not play well. He piled on the unforced errors that day.
Here’s some of that match.
The draws will be … very interesting
No doubt Toni Nadal has had plenty of offers since he stepped down from the constant travelling and let Team Rafa carry on with Carlos Moya and Francisco Roig in charge.
Clearly he sees something special in the young Canadian. And you know he wouldn’t commit to it unless his nephew was okay with it.
But it certainly will make the draw-watching at those three events a little more intriguing, won’t it?
The Monte Carlo draw is scheduled for Friday.