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Tennis News – Uncle Toni’s magic is yet to work on Felix Auger-Aliassime

By Alix Ramsay

They came to the Monte Carlo Country Club as the celebrity double act: Toni Nadal and Felix Auger-Aliassime. One round later, they left with an ever-growing “to do” list after Felix dribbled out of the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, beaten 7-6, 6-1 by Cristian Garin.

The match began on Monday, a damp and dismal beginning. Conditions were slow and soggy but, no matter, Felix had a 4-2 lead in the first set. But after a bit of hanging about on court as the skies dripped followed by a two-hour rain delay, play was finally suspended for the night.

Coming back on Tuesday, the weather had improved dramatically (blue skies, sunshine and not a rain drop in sight) and Felix took a 5-2 lead. He had a couple of set points. And then he lost them. He had more set points. And he lost them. Then, from 6-5 up, it all went downhill.

“The conditions were different because yesterday was a rainy day,” Felix said. “The ball was not bouncing so high. The conditions were slower. It was different. I can’t say it was better or worse. Today was good for me, too. I was happy to see the sunshine and more normal conditions.

“I had some chances, some opportunities. It’s never easy to come back in a match at 30-All in the middle of a game. But I was able to win that game, and I had the opportunity of winning the set. I didn’t do it. It was a frustrating match for me.”

As he spoke, he had not had time for a proper debrief with his illustrious new coach. Toni will be with Felix for the European clay court season working alongside the Canadian’s full-time mentor, Fred Fontang, and the world No.21 is expecting to assigned an awful lot of homework before his next singles match.

“As to my work with Toni and Fred, things are going well,” he said. “We are working hard. Everybody is getting along very well. We have to continue that way. There’s a lot of work to do. I have to improve. I have to do things better and better.

“I want to keep going, making progress. I’m top 20. I’ve been that for a bit more than a year, because of the Covid. I’m at a good level. Sometimes I feel like I’m playing well. Sometimes I don’t play that well. But I want to keep improving. I want results.

“It’s one thing to feel I’m playing good, but the other thing is to have results, improve my ranking, be part of the Masters at the end of the year. This is the breakthrough I want to make. We’ll see if I’m able to do it.”

He is a level headed chap, is Felix – and that is all to the good because Toni believes that success cannot come without suffering. That suffering may be in the form of hard losses, it may be in the form of physical pain on the practice courts; either way, winning with Toni does not come easy – just ask Rafa Nadal. Then again, when you start winning with Toni, the results can be spectacular. Again, just ask Rafa.

Ready to make whatever changes were necessary to kick on and push for the very top of the game, Felix and his team started to look around last year.

Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in action during his first-round match against Cristian Garin of Chile at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, 13 April 2021. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

“In the last month of last year, I was starting to think that there might be a possibility for me in the future to work with someone with a lot of experience at the highest level,” he explained. “We were lucky to be able to make contact with Toni. I’m very lucky to be able to learn from him and benefit from his experience and work with him. Of course, there’s a lot of work to do, but it’s a good association and I’m very happy.”

How happy Felix is after Toni has started that work – and how successful that work is – we will find out as the clay court season progresses.