Felix Auger-Aliassime: Aiming to win the very biggest titles with coach Toni Nadal - Players' Voice
Just weeks ago, Felix Auger-Aliassime fuelled anticipation by announcing a new partnership with one of the world’s most decorated coaches, Toni Nadal, in time for the clay court swing. In the latest edition of Players’ Voice, the Canadian world No.20 shares how the idea was born and what they hope to achieve together…
Players and pundits prophesied big things for Felix Auger-Aliassime ever since he became the youngest player to reach an ATP 500 final back at the Rio Open in February 2019.
He has gone on to reach six more finals, break into the world's top 25 (the youngest player since Lleyton Hewitt in 1999 to do so), and has scored significant wins at Grand Slams, notably making the last 16 in both New York and Melbourne within the last nine months.
I feel super privileged and lucky to have Toni in my team. Throughout my whole childhood I remember him by the side of his nephew, Rafa. He’s been around for a long time and has won everything the sport has to give as a coach so it’s extremely motivating to have him by my side. I think he’s a person I can learn a lot from, both as a person and as a coach.
Growing up, I remember seeing a lot of him on TV when I was watching Rafa’s matches and he just struck me as this very devoted and passionate coach. Of course he was his uncle, but ultimately he's a coach that was willing to go above and beyond for his player - he seemed to have this vision for Rafa’s career and gave him everything he needed.
Toni Nadal hugs Rafael Nadal after he wins his maiden Roland-Garros title in 2005
Image credit: Getty Images
The first time we both met was actually at Monte-Carlo two years ago. Each year there’s a players’ party and I was rehearsing for my part, which was a piano performance. He came into the room, saw me and stopped to say that he’d seen me play in Indian Wells and that he liked my attitude and my game.
His words kind of stayed with me and it got me thinking about how great it would be to have somebody like him on my team; somebody who had a different, fresh view to potentially see things that we may be missing.
So at the end of last year when I was back home in Canada, we approached him to see if it could be a possibility. He agreed to talk to us and suggested a trial at the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, so we headed out there for two weeks and everything just seemed to work really well. After that, I started my season and we kept in touch before announcing the partnership not long after.
From the feedback I’ve had, I think everyone thinks it’s only a good thing; my coach Frederic, the rest of the team, my family, and other coaches and players on the tour. Will it give me an advantage? We will see, but I think in the end, what happens on the court is most important and I still have to do the work - it’s not like having Toni automatically improves my performances or my ranking right away.
It’s very early days, but so far we’ve been talking a lot about where we see my career heading, which is essentially to reach the highest levels and win the biggest tournaments.
It’s not all precise and there’s a lot of things I can’t disclose but the main thing is the consistency he wants me to have, and an intensity and focus in my training. Once we’re able to achieve that in every practice and match then hopefully good things will come. He says things which sound simple but aren’t necessarily easy to do, yet they are the most important things to work on.
I think throughout my education and journey into professional tennis, I’ve naturally always had a good mentality. Even with Toni, I’m still the same player with the same mentality, but I’m just trying to improve a little bit every day. If you prepare well and improve, then everything else follows through so that’s the main focus for me.
We have a big calendar of tennis right now! Tokyo this summer is definitely something we’re working towards; the selection hasn’t been completed yet but if I had the chance to go, it would really be a dream come true. Then I’d love to also reach a late stage at the Grand Slams. I’m pretty excited about returning to Wimbledon, in particular, because I loved playing there for the first time two years ago.
Felix Auger-Aliassime makes a winning debut at Wimbledon in 2019
Image credit: Getty Images
Qualifying for the year-end ATP Finals is also a big goal and to be able to achieve that year after year would be something amazing for me, but in the meantime, I know it’s all about becoming a better player to get to that top, consistent level.
Reaching that level also has a personal meaning as last year I launched #FAAPointsForChange, a programme which means that for every point I win, $5 goes to kids in Togo who need protection and education. My dad was an immigrant from the country and has never hidden the tough things he had to deal with. He made me aware of situations that people around him had to go through so with my tennis one way or another, I’ve always wanted to try and make a further impact to help them.
Of course I want to win regardless, but it can only be a good thing if all my points count for much more. With coronavirus and playing week after week, there have been moments I’ve found particularly gruelling so it’s kept me grounded knowing that there are kids out there who can benefit from what I put out on the court.
It gives me that extra energy to go and give my best effort, whether that’s to scratch one more game, set or match. I think that working with Toni and my team on improving my consistency can only help contribute to that.