A key storyline at Roland Garros last year was the ‘Uncle Toni controversy’. Toni Nadal, the uncle and former coach of all-time great Rafael Nadal, coaches Felix Auger-Aliassime. Before the pair clashed on the Parisian clay, Uncle Toni told the media he wanted his nephew to win.
That caused drama in the media, where some wondered how Auger-Aliassime would feel about the situation. The moment became a central theme in the fifth episode of Netflix’s new tennis series, Break Point.
Although dramatic on the show, Auger-Aliassime told ATPTour.com that there was no controversy on his side.
“I had been working with him for a while. It’s a discussion that we had from day one about potentially playing Rafa… [that]normally that he might sit it out and not be in the box or just watch from a neutral place,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It was still nice to see him at the match, though. Of course I saw him in the front row.
“It was nice to see him there just to know he was in the stadium watching the match, watching over us. So he’s been an important part also of my success in the past two years. I was happy that he was there, actually. But no it didn’t bother me in any way.”
Auger-Aliassime pushed Nadal to five sets in an epic encounter at the clay-court major. Thoughts about Uncle Toni, where the Spaniard was sitting and whom he was supporting were far from the Canadian’s mind. Auger-Aliassime was not concerned about who was across the net from him, either.
“I was really just locked in on the idea of winning. You know as a player that in order to win it’s more about how you’re going to play, and the choices you’re going to make and also how well you’re going to execute your game plan that’s going to make the difference,” Auger-Aliassime said. “After the match is done then you can look back… then you can appreciate the moment or what you’ve been able to do, but when the match is not over yet, you’re really just trying to find a way to win.
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“That’s what I remember, just taking it game by game and trying to see if I can give myself a chance to win.”
Despite his loss, Roland Garros proved a confidence-booster for Auger-Aliassime, who later in 2022 soared to the highest heights of his career. He climbed to a career-high No. 6 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time.
“The French Open was a special tournament for me this year. It was a tournament where I struggled to win any match in the past. I was injured one year and then I was actually 0-2. I thought, ‘Okay, this time around I need to win my first match’,” Auger-Aliassime recalled. “I ended up playing Rafa on centre court in the Round of 16 on Sunday. It was a special day filled with of course tension and a lot of emotions before, but in the end the fact that I was able to push it to five sets kind of showed also that I could play well on any surface at any tournament.
“It was a big deal for me and it gave me a lot of confidence heading into the rest of the season. Now looking back at it, I think showing up again at the tournament this year I’m going to feel better about my chances.”