At Roland Garros,
This is the question that torments the followers of the tournament and beyond. Where will Toni Nadal go to watch the round of 16 between Rafael Nadal and Félix Auger-Aliassime? We explain. Rafa’s uncle, his historic coach until 2018, returned to service after a three-year break with the (very) great Canadian hope. Obviously, “Uncle Toni” warned. Impossible to sit in Félix’s box, we don’t do that to the family.
Looking like a good man, as always, the most tanned specimen in the 16th arrondissement joked with journalists after training on a crowded No. 13 court on Saturday morning. Crowded and curious to know if Toni, part-time FAA coach, was going to give him some advice during the session. Nothing at all, promised, sworn, spat, replied Toni Nadal, followed like his shadow by Amazon and Netflix, which is preparing a documentary on the tennis season as it does with F1. On the other hand, he assures without laughing that he is looking for a place for Sunday. “Otherwise, it will be in front of the television.” Yeah, we don’t worry too much about this ticket story.
You can imagine that Rafa and Félix did not escape a flurry of raises on the elephant in the middle of the living room. The master of the place, a little grumpy for a week, sent the subject looking jaded. “I would have zero problems with Toni going to his box. I know the feelings we have for each other, I know he wants the best for me and I can’t imagine he wants me to lose. The Canadian extended a little more, but it was mainly to shower our fantasies: “I’m not going to ask Toni anything, I mean we’re talking about Nadal, we know him quite well anyway. If there was a secret to beating him, he wouldn’t have won 13 times here”.
However, Auger-Aliassime gave more depth to his thinking in English: “You also have to remember, because I know this question often comes out, for me, Rafa’s career, what he did with Toni, it’s much bigger than tomorrow’s game. Everything he has done before transcends tomorrow’s game. His career, everything else, my God, it goes way beyond this game.
It is that basically, the trace of Toni Nadal is difficult to define. Should we only remember the most successful genius coach in history (16 Grand Slams), the one who has drawn the quintessence of a champion he began to train at the age of three, or the guy at the good-natured look with rudimentary advice, which one sometimes wonders if he has not just had a huge stroke of luck by falling on one of the greatest champions in the history of sport without doing it on purpose?
Perhaps moreover, should we see a reason for the return of “Uncle Toni” in the arena. Prove that he was not the stowaway in the common destiny of the Nadals, this somewhat grumpy grandpa who falls too easily into the eternal trap of “it was-better-before” in his columns for the newspaper El Paíslike the last to pay tribute to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: “His end of career, with others makes me say that we will no longer see a certain style of tennis less precise, less, perfect, and less complete than the current style, but which was able to move more the fans of this sport”
In the JDD, before the tournament, the tournament director of Mallorca, who rarely says no to a corporate conference on the secrets of winning coaching, complained quietly that no player on the circuit dared approach him to ask him for a advice. Except FAA, who came to spend a week at the Rafa Nadal Academy last spring. The Rafa academy, or his life’s work. Toni applies there with the great champions of tomorrow the method which made his nephew the legend of Roland and more.
“We apply training systems that go in this direction, combining them with the attitudes that have given Rafa so much success throughout his professional career, such as: mobility, winning character , training and in-game intensity, competitive mentality and focus,” the website explains. In any case, the first results are flirtatious: Casper Ruud, whose father, a former top 15, was “seduced by the prospect of working with Toni’s vision”, reached 8th place in the world at 23, after 3 years to do his scales in Majorca. Jaume Munar is a little further (87th), but those who saw him push Schwartzman to his limits earlier this week know the fighting qualities of the maggot.
As for Toni Nadal’s specific role in their progression, joker. In the series that Amazon dedicated to him last year, the director of the academy seemed to spend a lot of time on the grounds with the teenagers in training, giving them common sense advice, most of the time. “Toni has a very pragmatic technical and tactical vision, his thing is to simplify and enlighten, whispered his friend and former player Jordi Arrese in the Spanish press in 2018. Tennis is a complicated sport and makes him looks easy. Perhaps he brings less technical solutions than others, but in the psychological field, it is a phenomenon”.
However, when he joined the Auger-Aliassime team, it was first the Canadian’s weak footwork that he pointed out: “We worked a lot on my movements on the ground, the intensity of my footwork, my movement on the court… I am more precise in my way of playing, with all the work done. I have powerful strikes naturally, but the challenge to overcome, since I was young, is to control this power, to channel it. With Toni, we were able to work on my support, and make my game more precise, more robust”.
Rather imperceptible to the naked eye, but surprisingly conclusive on paper. Since the arrival of the Iberian wizard in his team, FAA has gone from minimum to the quarter-finals of the Grand Slam. It would still be quite a feat to continue the series at Roland, with Toni hidden in a corner so as not to witness the drama.