Felix Auger-Aliassime opens up on his surprise link-up with Toni Nadal

ATP Tour
Felix Auger-Aliassime and Toni Nadal at practice

It has been one of the most talked-about coaching partnerships of 2021 and now Felix Auger-Aliassime has revealed what he hopes to get from his link-up with Rafael Nadal’s uncle Toni.

Speaking to Eurosport’s Players’ Voice, the Canadian youngster has opened up in his first few weeks working with the mentor who guided Nadal to 16 Grand Slam titles, as he hopes his influence will take his game to the next level.

What has Toni Nadal brought to your team so far?

I feel super privileged and lucky to have Toni in my team. Throughout my whole child hood I remember him by the side of his nephew – he’s been around for a long time and has won everything the sport has to give as a coach so it’s extremely motivating to have him by my side. I think he’s a person I can learn a lot from, both as a person and as a coach. Growing up, I remember seeing a lot of him on TV when I was watching Rafa’s matches and he just struck me as this very devoted and passionate coach. Of course, he was his uncle but ultimately a coach that was willing to go above and beyond for his player – he seemed to have this vision for Rafa’s career and gave him everything he needed.

How did the coaching partnership happen?

The first time we both met was actually at Monte-Carlo two years ago. Each year there’s a players’ party and I was rehearsing for my part which was a piano performance. He came into the room, saw me and stopped to say that he’d seen me play in Indian Wells and that he liked my attitude and my game. His words kind of stayed with me and it got me thinking about how great it would be to have somebody like him on my team; somebody who had a different, fresh view to potentially see things that we may be missing. So at the end of last year when I was back home in Canada, we approached him to see if it could be a possibility. He agreed to talk to us and suggested a trial at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca so we headed out there for two weeks and everything just seemed to work really well. After that, I started my season and we kept in touch before announcing the partnership not long after.

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What has the reaction been from your fellow tour pros?

From the feedback I’ve had, I think everyone thinks it’s only a good thing; my coach Frederic (Fontang), the rest of the team, my family, and other coaches and players on the tour. Will it give me an advantage? We will see, but I think in the end, what happens on the court is most important and I still have to do the work – it’s not like having Toni automatically improves my performances or my ranking right away.

What has Toni brought to your game?

It’s very early days, but so far we’ve been talking a lot about where we see my career heading which is essentially to reach the highest levels and win the biggest tournaments. It’s not all precise and there’s a lot of things I can’t disclose but the main thing is the consistency he wants me to have, and an intensity and focus in my training. Once we’re able to achieve that in every practice and match then hopefully good things will come. He says things which sound simple but aren’t necessarily easy to do, yet they are the most important things to work on.

What do you expect him to add?

I think throughout my education and journey into professional tennis, I’ve naturally always had a good mentality. Even with Toni, I’m still the same player with the same mentality, but I’m just trying to improve a little bit every day. If you prepare well and improve, then everything else follows through so that’s the main focus for me.

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What are you looking forward to in tennis this year?

We have a big calendar of tennis right now! Tokyo this summer is definitely something we’re working towards; the selection hasn’t been completed yet but if I had the chance to go, it would really be a dream come true. Then I’d love to also reach a later stage at the Grand Slams. I’m pretty excited about returning to Wimbledon in particular because I loved playing there for the first time two years ago.

How have you found the last year with so much disruption due to the pandemic?

Of course, I want to win regardless, but it can only be a good thing if all my points count for much more. With coronavirus and playing week after week, there have been moments I’ve found particularly gruelling so it’s kept me grounded knowing that there are kids out there who can benefit from what I put out on the court. It gives me that extra energy to go and give my best effort whether that’s to scratch one more game, set or match. I think that working with Toni and my team on improving my consistency can only help contribute to that.

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