10sBalls.com • TennisBalls.com

Tennis Coach “Uncle Toni” Nadal to Coach Felix Auger-Aliassime for the Clay Court Swing

Spanish tennis coach Toni Nadal. EPA-EFE/Marcial Guillen

By Alix Ramsay

Never say never. When Toni Nadal stepped back from his coaching role with his nephew Rafa, he said he could never imagine working with anyone else. And anyway, he was tired of the travel and living out of a suitcase.

That was back in 2017 at the end of a season in which Rafa had won La Decima, his 10th title at Roland Garros. What else was there left for Toni to do? He headed back home to Mallorca to run Rafa’s academy and live a quieter life.

Four years and three more French Open titles for Rafa later and Toni is back on the coaching beat, this time working with Felix Auger-Aliassime. The two will join forces for the first time (professionally, at least) at next week’s Monte Carlo event and then make their way across the clay courts of Europe as they head for Paris and Roland Garros.

“When the offer reached me, I told him to come to the [Rafa Nadal] Academy for 10 days so that he could see if what I could offer him may or may not suit him,” Toni Nadal told the Spanish newspaper, Marca

“As the director of the Academy, it means I can collaborate with a player who has great aspirations and it is a challenge that motivates me.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in action against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan during their men’s first-round match during the French Open in 2020.

Auger-Aliassime is the world No.22 and is one of the great prospects for the future. But although he reached the French Open junior final in 2016, his results on the red dirt at senior level are distinctly average: played 31; won 16, lost 15. No matter; Auger-Aliassime is not only hugely talented, he is also extremely bright and not without ambition. If he wanted to get better at this clay court malarky, he needed to get the best in the business – and they don’t come better than the bloke who coached the greatest clay court player in the history of the sport. So Felix contacted Toni.

Anyone who has read Rafa’s book (imaginatively titled Rafa – My Story) will know that Uncle Toni is no push over; the 60-year-old makes the average sergeant major seem like a pussy cat. But that is only the half of it: if Toni can turn Felix into a force on clay then there is every chance that the Canadian will find himself playing Rafa in the coming months. That could be ever so slightly awkward – and not just for Felix.

“If we have to play against Rafael, I would not sit on either of the two benches, out of respect for both players,” Toni said, “and because I am still the director of the Academy so I continue to work for him and I am his uncle.

“But if he has to lose to someone, I hope it will be to Felix. I will never stop being Rafael’s uncle, we have been connected for many years. But I hope in the future, it will be Felix who is world No.1. For now, he must improve.”