It’s official. The legendary “Uncle” Toni Nadal will coach Felix Auger-Aliassime beginning next week at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters. Undoubtedly the most exciting player/coach pairing in recent memory, Nadal will hope to advance the phenomenally talented Canadian’s game to new heights in 2021 and beyond.
“I told myself that it would be good to go to somebody who has been at the highest level of our sport,” Auger-Aliassime told ATPTour.com. “Someone who has been to where I want to go one day. We approached Toni with the possibility to come to Mallorca to meet him, to train and to discuss, so we did.”
For Nadal, it’s always been about respect. Without Auger-Aliassime’s flawless reputation on and off the court, this pairing would have never happened.
“I wouldn’t be able to work with someone who wasn’t respectful,” Nadal said. “Because I’ve been lucky enough to work for my entire life with a boy who has always been respectful and has earned himself a good name.”
It also doesn’t hurt that the 20-year-old is undeniably one of the most athletic prospects we’ve seen on a tennis court in a long time.
“Let’s not beat around the bush,” Nadal added. “This is a kid who theoretically should be among the best in the world in years to come. It’s always nice to work with someone like that.”
Welcome aboard Toni ???????? pic.twitter.com/BGH0HIapUr— Félix AugerAliassime (@felixtennis) April 8, 2021
It’s difficult to think of a player who has evolved his or her game more than Rafael Nadal throughout his 20-year career. From his vastly improved serve to his now lethal backhand, he has improved seemingly every aspect of his tennis. In the beginning, Rafael spun his serve in the box, hit primarily open-stance backhands, and looked to hit a forehand on every possible shot. Now, he is as complete a player as you will find.
Hopefully Uncle Toni will do the same to Auger-Aliassime. At his best, the Canadian is borderline unplayable with his combination of power and athleticism.
But he has shown a tendency to stumble at the finish line. In his brief career, Auger-Aliassime is 0-7 in ATP finals. If there is one area Nadal’s wisdom and guidance would be most welcome, it’s in his return game.
According to Infosys ATP Stats, Auger-Aliassime is the 63rd best returner in the game. That number will need to improve if Auger-Aliassime hopes to accomplish his lofty goals—Rafael ranks first.
In addition to the return, Auger-Aliassime’s shot selection needs improvement. For those who have seen Rafael on a practice court, they know that he can strike a 100 mph winner anytime he wants, but instead he chooses to wear down his opponents with his fitness, mental toughness, and repeatable patterns. So often Auger-Aliassime will miss a second-serve return, or go for too much on a crucial point.
Whether Nadal will tinker with Auger-Aliassime’s technique remains to be seen, but he certainly adjusted his nephew's forehand technique throughout the years. As tennis analyst Matthew Willis points out, "In the beginning, Nadal had a pretty extreme take back with his racquet vertical and facing away from him.
Nadal in 2004- Getty Images
"But from 2010 onwards, his stroke is a more compact, refined version of his early forehand.
Nadal in 2015- Getty Images
“Whether Nadal will tweak Auger-Aliassime’s forehand is just speculation, but it wouldn’t be that surprising given his track record for experimenting with wristy, semi-western grip forehands."
What becomes of Auger-Aliassime’s tennis remains to be seen, but the prospect of adding a little “Rafa” to his game seems like a good plan.