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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 27, 2022


Rafael Nadal has not surrendered a set in three Roland Garros wins setting up a fourth-round match vs. 9th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime, who's coached by Toni Nadal.

Photo credit: Getty

It was moving day in Paris and Rafael Nadal marched right into a Roland Garros reunion.

Unleashing vicious topspin drives, Nadal rode a pair of five-game surges powering past Botic van de Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 into the Roland Garros fourth round for the 17th time in 18 appearances.

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The 21-time Grand Slam champion set up a riveting round-of-16-encounter with Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is coached by Nadal’s uncle and original coach, Toni Nadal.

Auger-Aliassime fired 58 winners, including 16 aces, defeating Serbian Filip Krajinovic 7-6(3), 7-6(2), 7-5 on Court 14.

"He’s a Top 10 player; he’s having an amazing year," Nadal told Tennis Channel's Chanda Rubin. "I think he’s in a very high position on the race this year. It’s a round of 16 so you can’t expect an easy opponent there. I don’t complain.

"I know it’s gonna be a tough match. At the end of the day, I need to play at my 100 percent and as close as possible to my best level if I want to keep having chances in the tournament. Excited to play that match going to be a good test for me. So let’s see. I’m focused on trying to do my work well. So let’s see what happens."

The ninth-seeded Canadian, who has trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, reached his maiden Roland Garros round of 16.

Working with Toni Nadal in addition to his primary traveling coach Frederic Fontang, former French Open junior finalist Auger-Aliassime has contested quarterfinals or better in his last three Grand Slams, including a run to the US Open final four last summer.

The fourth-round match puts Toni Nadal in a unique position—will he sit in Auger-Aliassime’s box as he has throughout this tournament or will he opt for a neutral location out of respect for his nephew?

Rafa Nadal said he's not sure, but there's not a problem either way.

"For me it's very simple. He's my uncle," Rafael Nadal told the media in Paris. "I don't think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, 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, and I know he wants the best for me."

Auger-Aliassime said he believes Toni Nadal will watch the match from a neutral spot rather than his support box.

"We have already talked about what I could learn from him. Toni did say things that Rafa would do less well or things on which I should focus," Auger-Aliassime said. "But as for that particular match, we knew one day that since we started working together, this is something that could happen.

"It was already decided that Toni would watch the match in a neutral way, not to be on anyone's side. As far as I'm concerned, this is a match that I'm handling just as any match. I will focus on what I can do well. I will try to give my best. I will try to find solutions on the court."

Asked what Uncle Toni has meant to his career, Rafael Nadal replied “everything.”

“Well, more than anything else is my uncle, so what he brings to me: Everything. I play tennis because of him,” Rafael Nadal said of Toni Nadal. “If I am a professional player, without a doubt is because of him, no?

“Now it's a question for Felix, not for me anymore. You can ask him about what's the things that he feels that Toni brings to him, and I am sure that Toni can help him and is helping him in a positive way. He has a lot of experience, and he's passionate about this sport. He's smart, no? He knows a lot about tennis, so I'm sure gonna be able to help for him.”

Playing on the smaller Court Suzanne Lenglen while world No. 1 Novak Djokovic rolled by Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 into the fourth round on Court Philippe Chatrier, Nadal took a little time adjusting to different surroundings.

Apart from dropping serve in the opening game and surrendering serve again while up 4-1 in the third set, Nadal was largely dominant in today’s two hour, 11-minute sweep.

Afterward, the 21-time Grand Slam champion said he was pleased with his performance.

"Today have been a very good test, too, and very positive test, because I was able to play my best match of the tournament so far, without any doubt," Nadal said. "For two sets and a half I was playing at the very positive level.

"That's very good news for me, no, you know, going on court tomorrow, my practice session, knowing that today I was able to raise my level a lot. It's the moment tomorrow to confirm that on practice and keep working on specific things."

One round after scoring his 300th career major win, Nadal raised his Roland Garros record to an astounding 108-3, including winning 88 of those 108 victories in straight sets.

The Australian Open champion showed jitters at the start. Nadal double faulted to open before van de Zandschulp centered a return to break in the opening game. A master of the break back, Nadal responded as you’d expect breaking right back.

After losing serve, Nadal stamped five straight love holds to snatch the opening set.

One hour into the match, Nadal bent a running banana forehand down the line that pierced the sideline for break point. Nadal curled a forehand inside the opposite sideline breaking for 4-1.

On Nadal’s second set point, he slid his first ace out wide sealing a two-set lead after just 74 minutes.

Commanding the center of the court and crashing his crackling topspin forehand into both corners, Nadal tripled his winners to errors—15 to 5—and won 25 of 27 first-serve points through the first two sets.

Serving for the fourth round at 5-4, Nadal dodged a break point when Van de Zandschulp missed a return.

Spinning his second ace brought Nadal a second match point. This time, the Spaniard thumped a smash down the middle to end it.

In addition to the family ties at stake in the Nadal vs. Auger-Aliassime match there's the fascination of how the fifth-seeded Spaniard will perform against the explosive Canadian, who tested Djokovic before bowing to the world No. 1 7-5, 7-6(1) in the Rome quarterfinals earlier this month.


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