Toni Nadal’s loyalty will be split between nephew Rafael and current manager Felix Auger-Aliassime after the French Open served up a delightful round of 16 clash.
Popularly known on the tour as Uncle Toni, the man who has been alongside superstar Nadal for so many of his greatest triumphs signed on last year to coach Canadian Auger-Aliassime.
Nadal and Auger-Aliassime, 21, have had just one competitive encounter, three years ago on clay in Madrid, but they will face off in Paris in the fourth round, and the prospect could hardly be more appetizing.
According to Rafael Nadal, who says he has “no problem” with the script, Uncle Toni “wants the best for me”.
But Toni Nadal was hired by Auger-Aliassime, so in theory he should also want the best for the man who grew up in Quebec.
Auger-Aliassime earned a hard-fought 7-6 (7-3) 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 win over Serbian Filip Krajinovic on Friday, while Nadal held off Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp for the loss of only nine games.
There is apparently no prospect of the Nadals staying away from each other ahead of the fight.
“I already spoke with Toni after my game,” Rafael Nadal said after sinking Van de Zandschulp’s hopes.
“For me it’s very simple. He’s my uncle. I don’t think he could want me to lose, no doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s with another player.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, if he’s going to stay in the box or not, but I don’t care. I have no problem with that. So it’s not a story for me at all. I know what feelings we have between us I know he wants the best for me.
Nadal said he had no problem with Uncle Toni working for another player, adding: “He’s old enough to make his own decisions, right?
“I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me for so many years. I have no problem with any position he takes. I want the best for him, and he wants the best for me We are family more than anything.
“Not just a family, we are a family that stays together all the time. We are in the same village. We spend time at the academy together. We have experienced incredible emotions together. So it’s not just a uncle. He’s more than that.”
It all may have been an interesting listen for Auger-Aliassime, who has joined Nadal in the world top 10 since meeting three years ago, with the Canadian at a career-high ninth in the rankings.
Auger-Aliassime’s clay-court form has been uneven this season, and it would be a major surprise if he took the scalp of the 13-time French Open champion, who is defying lingering foot pain to continue his career.
Toni Nadal has joined Frederic Fontang in Auger-Aliassime’s coaching roster, and it’s perhaps the latter who will do a lot of the tactical planning for the next game.
“I don’t know if I need an insight into how Rafa is playing, to be honest,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I think we all know what he does well.
“It was black and white from the first time we started working together. We knew it was a possibility of me eventually playing against Rafa when I work with Toni. And actually now he’s present here in this grand slam. But I think Toni will watch from a neutral place and enjoy the game.
“From me it’s another game, another opportunity to try to play a good game and win, but of course it’s very difficult. I don’t know how Toni feels. Maybe we should -we ask him, but he didn’t talk to me about it.”
Auger-Aliassime called on watchers to consider the “big picture”, and what Toni and his nephew, the 21-time Grand Slam men’s record holder, have achieved together.
“It’s a game, let’s play, but his career and everything is much bigger than that,” said the Canadian.