French Open results 2022: Rafael Nadal vs Felix Auger Aliassime, Toni Nadal backlash

Rafael Nadal’s uncle and former coach was the unlikely source of attention as his newest disciple tried to end the Spaniard’s French Open run.

Rafael Nadal set up a blockbuster French Open quarter-final against world number one Novak Djokovic when he defeated Felix Auger-Aliassime in a five-set fourth round epic on Monday and pledged to “fight until the end”.

Nadal, the 13-time champion at Roland Garros and holder of a record 21 Grand Slam titles, triumphed over the Canadian 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in a match which lasted four hours and 21 minutes.

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It was only the third time in his 17-year, 111-match career in Paris that Nadal had been stretched to five sets.

Nadal and Djokovic will meet for the 10th time at Roland Garros and 59th overall in a rivalry stretching back to 2006.

“We know each other well, we have a lot of history. The only thing I can say is that I will be focused, try my best and fight until the end,” said Nadal of renewing his rivalry with the defending champion.

Djokovic has been responsible for two of Nadal’s three defeats in Paris — in the quarter-finals in 2015 and last year’s semi-final.

Nadal hailed Auger-Aliassime, who has been working with his uncle and former long-time coach Toni since April last year.

“Felix is a great player, one of the best in the world. He’s very young with a lot of power and great mobility,” said the 35-year-old Spaniard, who has made the last-eight for the 16th time.

Toni Nadal’s presence caused quite a stir in Paris as he clearly found it difficult to pick sides between his current pupil and his family member, who he guided to so many French Open titles.

Before the match he said his “ethics” did not allow him to give Auger-Aliassime tips on how to defeat his nephew — a position he made clear when he first started working with the young gun should he ever face Nadal.

After the match, Toni reportedly told a reporter from France TV: “Felix is Felix, but my nephew is my nephew. I wanted him to win. For us this tournament will always be special.”

Tennis commentators weren’t thrilled with Toni’s stance. Jose Morgado said on Twitter he “shouldn’t accept to be interviewed about this match” because “it’s just a bad look”.

Tennis journalist Gasper Ribeiro Lanca wrote: “Pretty sure it wasn’t easy for FAA to go to bed yesterday with this being the headline. And then to leave the match and have this as one of the headlines.

“Toni was always going to want Rafa to win, that’s obvious. But it should have been kept as a low profile thing from him.”

Fellow reporter Bastien Fachan posted his agreement with that take on social media.

Toni declined to sit in either player’s coaches box and instead watched the match from the Presidential Tribune VIP section.

Mike Dickson of the Daily Mail reported Toni even “left the stadium after the fourth set”, possibly because his nerves couldn’t handle what was unfolding.

Ninth-ranked Auger-Aliassime raced into a 3-1 lead in the first set on Monday and battled from three break points down to edge 4-1 ahead.

Nadal retrieved one of the breaks in the seventh game but the 21-year-old Canadian held his nerve to pocket the opener.

Two loose forehands at 3-5 in the second set opened the door for 35-year-old Nadal while the third set swung the Spaniard’s way in the third game when three rapid, defensive scrambles forced an error from his opponent.

Auger-Aliassime then rallied to level the tie.

In a tense finale, Nadal converted only the sixth of the 22 break points he had carved out to lead 5-3 and held his nerve to claim his 109th victory at Roland Garros.

Djokovic also reached the quarter-finals for the 16th time when he eased to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 victory against 15th seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

“It’s a huge challenge and probably the biggest one that you can have here in Roland Garros. I’m ready for it,” said Djokovic of facing his old rival.

Djokovic is still to drop a set at Roland Garros after cruising through the first week.

He has also won 22 sets in a row, stretching back to his Italian Open title triumph in Rome earlier this month.

With AFP

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