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Tennis Coach Uncle Toni Nadal, it will be nephew vs. pupil when Rafa faces Auger-Aliassime at French Open 2022

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates victory over Botic van de Zandschulp of Netherlands in their third round match during day six of Roland Garros. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

By Ricky Dimon

In order to potentially set up a highly-anticipated French Open quarterfinal against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal will have to get through another blockbuster matchup in the fourth round.

Unlike a Nadal-Djokovic showdown, Nadal vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime isn’t one all-time great vs. another. It isn’t a tale of two top title contenders. Nadal, of course, is the only one of the two who fits those criteria. But this will be must-see television in part because the Spaniard and Canadian do have one thing in common: Toni Nadal in their corner.

Toni, of course, is Nadal’s uncle. He also helps coach Auger-Aliassime.

Conflicting allegiances for Toni will be the be the big story–even though he says he will not attend the match–when Nadal and Auger-Aliassime go head-to-head in the fourth round at Roland Garros on Sunday. The Uncle Toni Bowl became a certainty when Nadal and Auger-Aliassime rolled to third-round wins on Friday afternoon without dropping a set. The 35-year-old erased Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, while the 21-year-old beat Filip Krajinovic 7-6(3), 7-6(2), 7-5.

“I don’t think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt,” Nadal said of Toni. “But he’s a professional and he’s with another player. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, if he’s gonna stay in the box or not. But I don’t care; I have zero problem with that. So it’s not a story at all for me. I know what’s the feelings that we have between each other. I know he wants the best for me. Now he’s helping another player. But honestly, for me it’s zero problem.

“We are family more than anything else. Not only family; we are a family that [stays] together all the time. We are in the same village. We spend time in the academy together…. So he’s not only an uncle. He’s more than that.”

Toni Nadal will not sit in the support box when Felix Auger-Aliassime faces Rafa Nadal in Paris. EPA-EFE/Marcial Guillen

Toni won’t be anything more than an innocent bystander for Sunday’s tilt. He said before the tournament started that he would not attend a Nadal vs. Auger-Aliassime match, and Auger-Aliassime insisted that he will not get any inside information. After all, there may not be any to give!

“I don’t know if I need insight on how Rafa plays, to be honest,” the world No. 9 commented. “I think we all know what he does well. I don’t think Toni will tell me anything new about how Rafa plays…. If there were secrets to [beating] Rafa, he wouldn’t have won (the French Open) 13 times.

“But we had the discussion. It was black and white from the first time we started working together we knew it was a possibility that eventually I would play Rafa when I’m working with Toni. And actually now [it’s here]. I think Toni will watch from a neutral place and enjoy the match.”

Toni can enjoy it knowing that he will have a player in the French Open quarterfinals–likely against Djokovic.

The question is: which one?

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.