Rafael Nadal knew this had to happen. So did his uncle, Toni Nadal, who coached Rafael to his cousin’s most men’s records, 21 Grand Slam titles.
Felix Auger-Aliassime was of course also aware that this moment was coming, the promising player who last year brought the man known to many as Uncle Toni on board for some extra help.
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When Toni and Rafael ended their professional partnership, and once Auger-Aliassime hired Toni to work with full-time coach Frederic Fontang, they all thought their paths would cross somewhere, someday. Now it’s going to happen in the fourth round at Roland-Garros: Nadal vs. Auger Aliassim. Which in some ways is also a matchup of Nadal vs. nadal.
So, the 13-time champion at Roland Garros was asked, is there perhaps some clumsiness? You probably won’t be talking to your uncle before Sunday’s encounter against ninth-seeded Auger-Aliassime, a 21-year-old from Canada, right?
Nadal shook his head and said he had already spoken to Toni after beating 26th-seeded Botic Van De Zandschulp 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 on Friday.
“For me it is very simple. He is my uncle. I don’t think he’ll be able to want me to lose, no doubt, but he’s a professional and he’s playing with another player,” said fifth-seeded Nadal, who has been dealing with chronic foot pain this season. and a rib injury, but also won the Australian Open in January.
“It’s not a story at all for me. I know the feelings we have among each other. I know he wants the best for me. Now he’s helping another player,” he said. “But to be honest, it’s not a problem for me at all.”
Auger-Aliassime, meanwhile, resolved a little bit of intrigue, saying he expected Uncle Toni to sit in a neutral spot in the stands, rather than being forced to choose between the guest box of one or the other.
What sort of insights Toni about his former player might reveal to his current one, Auger-Aliassim smiled. Not too many unknowns about Rafael right now, not at 35, not after so many years on tour.
“I know him. I’ve seen him play. I know what he’s doing well. We all know it,” said Auger-Aliassime, a 2021 US Open semi-finalist who advanced on Friday by beating Filip Krajinovic 7-6. ), 7-6(2), 7-5.
“But nobody – Toni, Fred or me – has the answers,” he said.
On the horizon is the prospect that if Nadal wins, he could find yet another familiar face in the stadium for the quarter-finals: defending champion Novak Djokovic.
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Leader Djokovic, who defeated Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 on Friday and now faces 15th seed Diego Schwartzman, and Nadal have won all nine sets they have played on the red clay of the United States. Paris so far. And both have given up only 23 games in total.
They have already played against each other 58 times, more than two other men in the Open era, and maybe number 59 will come next week. Asked earlier in the tournament about that “pretty good lefty in your quarter of the draw,” Djokovic played dumb and joked, “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
Also on their half of the brace: number 6 Carlos Alcaraz, a 19-year-old who leads the tour with four titles in 2022 and this month at the Madrid Open became the only player in history to beat both Djokovic and Nadal on the same clay-court finish. event.
Alcaraz is now the youngest man in the fourth round of the French Open since Djokovic in 2006, who got there with a display of agile drop shots and other slick strikes in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 victory over the 21-year-old. year-old American Sebastian Korda under the lights at Hof Philippe Chatrier. Alcaraz now faces No. 21 Karen Khachanov, whose 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 win made No. 10 Cameron Norrie the first of the top 12 men to be sent home. Another Sunday match is No.3 Alexander Zverev vs. Bernabe Zapata Miralles, a qualifier who defeated number 23 John Isner of the US in five sets.
Three American women made it to the fourth round: 18-year-old Coco Gauff, 20-year-old Amanda Anisimova and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Gauff, the youngest player still on the field, won 6-3, 6-4 against the oldest, Kaia Kanepi from Estonia, who is twice her age at 36. Kanepi won the French Open junior title in 2001 – three years before Gauff was born.
Number 18 seed Gauff plays number 31 Elise Mertens next; other matches in the fourth round include No. 27 Amanda Anisimova against 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, Stephens against No. 23 Jil Teichmann, and Martina Trevisan against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
Stephens arrived in Paris with a losing streak of five games. But she is 3-0 on this trip.
“I don’t think you ever know when it’s going to happen or when it’s going to click. But I’m just trying to make the best of it, honestly,” said Stephens, the 2018 runner-up at Roland Garros. At no other tournament, so God bless.”
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Roland-Garros 2022 highs, lows and controversies