Toni Nadal has made his position clear for the French Open fourth round between his nephew Rafael Nadal and new charge Felix Auger-Aliassime. The former coach of the world No 5 has opted not to sit with either player’s camp and is instead front row on Court Philippe-Chatrier after admitting he wants his own star to lose to his nephew.
Nadal and Auger-Aliassime are facing off for the second time but the first since the Canadian started working with the fifth seed’s uncle and former coach Toni. When the world No 9 booked his place in the fourth round to face Nadal, he admitted that his coach would be watching from a “neutral place” and would not be advising him on how to defeat his own nephew.
And Uncle Toni has now appeared front and centre on Court Philippe-Chatrier, opting not to sit in his player’s box, and is instead in the front row of the presidential box, often reserved for celebrities, athletes and distinguished guests. While the 61-year-old has chosen not to pick a side on court, he has already let slip who he wants to win and snubbed his own protege.
The Spanish tennis coach is said to have run into retired French pro Mary Pierce earlier on Sunday and told her: “‘I hope my nephew is going to win today,” according to Bastien Fachan.
Pierce also reportedly said that the Canadian is aware of his coach’s stance and is “fine with it”. Auger-Aliassime already addressed the conflict of interest in playing against his coach’s own family member but said he didn’t want his match with the 13-time French Open champion to take away from everything Nadal and his uncle achieved together. “I think also you have to remember, because I know this question is going to come quite a lot, I just want to say that, you know, for me, like, Rafa’s career and what he did with Toni is much bigger than the match tomorrow, you know,” he said after winning his third round.
“I think we can all say that regardless of what happens tomorrow, I think we have to see like it’s much bigger than just this. I mean, what he did with his uncle, like this match will not take anything away from both sides really, and I just think we need to see it as bigger picture. It’s one match, let’s play, but his career and everything is much bigger than this.”
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And Nadal himself said he “didn’t care” about playing against his uncle before Toni opted to snub both player camps for a seat in the presidential box. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen, if he’s gonna stay in the box or not, but I don’t care,” he said after his own third round win over Botic van de Zandschulp.
“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.” While the clash against his uncle isn’t a story for Nadal, he could be involved in an even bigger story if he progresses to the next round, where he would meet Novak Djokovic in a rematch after the Serb upset the 13-time champion in last year’s semi final.