Rafa Vs. Uncle Toni: Nadal to Meet Auger-Aliassime in Paris
Rafael Nadal knew this was bound to happen. So, too, did his uncle, Toni Nadal, who coached Rafael to most of the nephew’s men’s-record 21 Grand Slam titles.
Also well aware this moment would come, of course, was Felix Auger-Aliassime, the promising player who brought aboard the man known to many simply as Uncle Toni for some extra assistance last year.
Once Toni and Rafael ended their professional partnership, and once Auger-Aliassime hired Toni to work in tandem with full-time coach Frederic Fontang, they all figured that somewhere, sometime, their paths would cross. Now it’ll happen in the French Open’s fourth round: Nadal vs. Auger-Aliassime. Which in some ways is also a matchup of Nadal vs. Nadal.
So, the 13-time champion at Roland Garros was asked, might there be some awkwardness there? Probably no way you’ll be chatting with your uncle ahead of Sunday’s meeting against the ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime, a 21-year-old from Canada, right?
Nadal shook his head and said he already had spoken to Toni straight after beating 26th-seeded Botic Van De Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday.
“For me, it’s very simple. He’s my uncle. I don’t think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s with another player,” said the fifth-seeded Nadal, who has dealt with chronic foot pain and a rib injury this season but also won the Australian Open in January.
“It’s not a story at all for me. I know what the feelings are that we have between each other. I know he wants the best for me. Now he’s helping another player,” he said. “But honestly, for me, it’s zero problem.”
Auger-Aliassime, meanwhile, resolved one little bit of intrigue, saying that he expected Uncle Toni to sit in a neutral spot in the stands, rather than being forced to choose between one player’s guest box or the other.
As for what sort of insights Toni might reveal about his former player to his current one, Auger-Aliassime smiled. Not too many unknowns about Rafael at this point, not at age 35, not after so many years on tour.
“I know him. I’ve seen him play. I know what he does well.