Felix Auger Aliassime hits a backhand on a clay court as Toni Nadal watches him

Photo : ATP Tour

On April 8, Toni Nadal became the newest official member of Félix Auger-Aliassime’s team as a coach and mentor to the Canadian sensation. The man who led Rafael Nadal to dizzying heights will now be collaborating with Frédéric Fontang at key tournaments, including the majors.  

There’s no question that Toni Nadal is among tennis’ great sages, so I went to another great sage—one who watched Félix come into his own at Tennis Canada’s National Tennis Centre presented by Rogers in Montréal no less—to see what he had to say: Louis Borfiga. 

In 2006, Louis Borfiga lay the foundations of a structure that made Canada the strong and respected tennis nation it is today. In September, he will be heading home to make the most of his well-deserved semi-retirement.  

In his opinion, Nadal is an excellent addition to Auger-Aliassime’s entourage. He also sees Uncle Toni’s signing as a testament to Félix’s talent and potential: 

“He said yes because he believes Félix can win a Grand Slam. Otherwise, he would’ve said no. He wouldn’t coach a player and get back on the tour if he didn’t think he could win a major. That’s for sure,” affirmed Borfiga. “Toni Nadal has a lot of experience with his nephew at the international level and knows how to lead a player to a Grand Slam title and, in this case, several. It’s good to have someone on your side who knows how to get you there.”  

Photo : Corinne Dubreuil/ATP TOUR

Since 2019, Félix Auger-Aliassime has lived in Monaco, where Louis Borfiga spent his 20s. In addition to working as a coach at a renowned tennis club, he was also a hitting partner for Prince Albert and the legendary Bjorn Borg. But contrary to what one may think, he had nothing to do with Félix’s big move.  

“I left Monaco 40 years ago, and I don’t have all the contacts I used to,” Louis Borfiga said. “Félix let me know he was moving after he had made the decision, and I told him it was a very good idea. It’s definitely important for a Canadian player to have a home base in Europe. There are so many European tournaments. So, you aren’t always travelling or, at the very least, you travel less. In Monaco, there’s a great gym and several courts. The weather is nice year-round, and a lot of players train there, including Djokovic, Dimitrov, Zverev, Goffin, Milos…”  

I couldn’t help but ask Louis Borfiga about Félix Auger-Aliassime’s past two seasons and especially the last in which, despite his ranking, he was at a bit of a standstill.

“He has to step on the gas this year to get into the Top 10,” said Borfiga, who acknowledged that 2020 fell short of expectations even though the pandemic wreaked havoc on the calendar and players’ habits. “He’s going to have to create opportunities for greatness and enter the Top 10. A lot of players are coming up behind him, like Sinner for instance. In my opinion, he needs to take his results one step further. Get a little meaner and really break down the door. Know what I mean?”  

Félix has more than enough potential and a deadly arsenal of shots, so what’s missing?  

“You know, all his shots are good, but I think he lacks consistency.That doesn’t mean pushing the ball but rather being more solid in long rallies. That’s what makes a great player. He needs to believe in himself now more than ever, and that’s where Toni Nadal’s experience and influence can have an impact in terms of confidence. Nadal can say: ‘Come on, you have to believe in yourself. I coached Rafael, and that’s always a huge part of his game. Go for it!’ Then, in the coming months, we’ll see if there’s anything that needs fine tuning.”  

Louis Borfiga in a suit holding a tennis racket and a ball

From Borfiga to Nadal, one master to another, Félix Auger-Aliassime is forging his own path and capitalizing on every means to move into the Top 10.   

That said, Louis Borfiga insist that before him and Toni Nadal, there was Sam Aliassime, who introduced his son to the game and gave him the drive and fundamentals that triggered his exceptional start.  

Aliassime and his wife Marie Auger have certainly earned Borfiga’s admiration.

“He’s fortunate to have parents with a good head on their shoulders and good values,” Borfiga affirmed. “There’s no doubt that helped. Even when he was very young, Félix was serious, disciplined and mature. If all parents were like his, coaching would be easy.” 

What about Rafa? 

Indeed, what about the King of Clay in all this? 

“First of all, he doesn’t have to ask me anything, no. He’s my uncle. I am very grateful for all the things he did for me. I’m happy he’s on the tour a couple of weeks.”  

Rafael Nadal

Quoted in his first press conference ahead of the Monte Carlo Masters, Rafael Nadal had only kind words for his uncle, who coached him for 27 years, and for Félix: “Toni has a lot of experience. He knows a lot about this sport. He has all the knowledge that somebody needs. I’m sure that’s going to be an important help for Félix.”  

Photo : Peter Staples/ATP TOUR

In Monaco, Toni Nadal would not have had to decide between his nephew and his new protégé before the final.

In a pre-tournament media scrum, the World No.1 put his two cents in: “Uncle Toni was probably looking for a new challenge. Toni was probably excited to explore a new project, a new adventure, on the Tour with one of the best young tennis players in the world at the moment. Félix is a great guy. He’s someone who has hard-working ethics, which is something that’s very important to Toni.”  

The last word goes to Stefanos Tsitsipas, one of Félix’s toughest opponents, who was quoted as saying: “Didn’t see that coming. I feel like he has an advantage having a coach like this. But he’s not going to do the playing for him. He might give him a few tips and good advice. It’s all going to go out on the court at the end.” 

And how would Toni react if Félix and Rafa were to come to blows on the court? (Nadal won their only battle two years ago in Madrid, 6-3, 6-3)

 “I’m Rafael Nadal’s uncle and the director of his academy, but, above all, I have a special affection for my nephew. If he has to lose to someone, then let it be Félix. The day they eventually play, I won’t be in either box out of respect for them both,”

Toni Nadal

The uncle and coach said this in an interview with Javier Mendez for the ATP website on April 8. 

A wise answer from a wise man.  

Félix stumbles in MC 

The first outing of this new partnership, in Felix’s new backyard, did not go as expected as Auger-Aliassime was knocked out by Chile’s Christian Garin, 7-6, 6-1.

In a match suspended by rain on Monday night, and resumed under the sun on Tuesday afternoon, Félix jumped up in front 5-2. But then, things went south.

With two set points at 5-3 and two more at 6-5, he saw his opponent rack up 8 of the 9 following games to get a confortable lead at 7-6, 3-0. The rest was swift.

Christian Garin from Chile hits a backhand
Photo : Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters

Unable to count on his first serve when needed, and facing a rival in full possession of his resources, the Canadian was quickly sent to the showers.

To the Chilean’s credit, we must point out that he is no rookie. The 24 years old south American has already 5 titles under his belt, all on clay, the last one at home in Santiago, on March 24th this year.

As Louis Borfiga mentioned it, earlier in this blog, Felix will have to win the long battles. And in Monte Carlo, Tuesday, he did not achieve this. In rallies going over 9 shots, Garin dominated 17-8. When Borfiga was saying that he must be “meaner”, he may have meant those wasted set points. And if you add 45 unforced errors to the mix (23 more than Garin), there you have the big picture.

On the positive side of it, Toni Nadal certainly liked to see the youngster fighting without showing any negativity. And that kind of attitude is one of the major criterias for a coach who trained a certain Rafael Nadal for 27 years…

Let’s wait and see what comes next.

BJK Cup: Leylah takes on Serbia

Canada’s newly-minted tennis star Leylah Annie Fernandez will only be competing in her second Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup) event, but the 18-year-old’s rise has propelled her among the top players to follow in the tie on April 16 and 17, when Canada goes head-to-head against Serbia at Sport Hall Ibar in Kraljevo, some 185 km south of the capital city of Belgrade.  

The No.72 will join forces with No.230 Rebecca Marino and No.421 Carol Zhao in the singles event. Sharon Fichman, ranked No.54 in doubles, rounds out the quartet led by captain Heidi El Tabakh. 

Photo : Claudio Thoma/freshfocus/Tennis Canada

They will battle Nina Stojanovic (87), Olga Danilovic (162), Ivana Jorovic (237) and Aleksandra Krunic (56 in doubles).  

The matches will be broadcast on Sportsnet One and SN Now online this Friday and Saturday. 

After securing her first title in Monterrey, Mexico, Leylah Annie Fernandez suffered an early exit in Charleston, South Carolina and then jetted to Serbia for the two-day event.  

Her recent triumphs even put her on the cover of ITF World, the official magazine of the International Tennis Federation, ahead of BJK Cup weekend.  

Speaking to the magazine, the young Quebecer, who never ceases to amaze us, said she’s turned to soccer to learn about strategy from none other than Pep Guardiola, famed manager of Manchester City, whom she came across in a documentary.

And just wait until you see the names of the other sports stars she drops in the article. Leylah’s definitely got plenty of imagination and determination.

But we already knew that.  

G. E. M. S. Life 4ever!

They were young and in love. Until they weren’t. Thankfully, though, they found a way to resume their love game.  

In a romantic post on g.e.m.s. life, their joint Instagram account and a blingy acronym for their combined initials, Gaël Monfils and Elina Svitolina announced “the beginning of their forever”, confirming their engagement and plans to wed this July.  

Love matches 

Elina Svitolina and Gaël Monfils most definitely rank among the most famous power couples in recent tennis history. 

They don’t have a Grand Slam title to their names, you say? True. But in the age of social media, your number of likes is a trophy in itself. Do they have what it takes to be among the top 5 or top 10 tennis couples? It’s your call.  

First, what makes a tennis power couple, anyway? In my opinion, the first criterion is how famous each player was BEFORE they started dating each other. Success in singles as a single is key.   

Next, longevity doesn’t count. It’s hard to make a relationship work these days, so I’m not giving a lot of weight to lastingness.  

Let’s get started with two of the most notable love matches in the game.  

In second place are two very young and very promising players. In 1972, Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors crossed paths and fell in love. She was 19, he was 22. In 1974, on the hallowed grass courts at Wimbledon, they were both crowned champions over the weekend. They kissed as they posed for photos with their trophies and were dubbed Love Double.  

But just as they were heading to the altar, Evert decided to call it quits. Unfortunately for them, they had to pose for more photos together at the US Open winners’ ball when they won together (but apart) in 1976, 1978 and 1982.  

Chrissie and Jimmy hold 26 Grand Slam titles (18 are hers, 8 are his) and both ascended to World No.1 (Evert for a total of 260 weeks and Connors for 268).  

The obvious choice for the absolute best tennis match is Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi.

Photo : Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Though they both won Wimbledon in 1992, Cupid didn’t hit an ace with them until seven years later, when Steffi and Andre shared a dance at the French Open champions’ ball.  

They won 30 Grand Slam titles (22 for Graf, 8 for Agassi) and both lorded over the rankings at No.1 (277 weeks for her, 101 for him).  

Here (in no particular order) is a tennis couple who shone bright but fizzled and another whose respective tennis records don’t quite compare. 

  • Bjorn Borg and Mariana Simonescu who spent the better part of a decade together (1974–1984).
  • The Maestro Roger Federer and Mirka Vavrinec who’ve been going strong since 2000.  

How about couples who each have at least one Grand Slam title?  

  • Kim Clijsters and Lleyton Hewitt (2000-2004)
  • Martina Hingis and Radek Stepanek (2006-2007)
  • Petra Kvitova and Radek Stepanek (2014)
  • Ana Ivanovic and Fernando Verdasco (2008-2009)
  • Kristina Mladenovic and Dominic Thiem (2017-2019)

Finally, women who have won at least one major and their Top 10 men:

  • Flavia Penetta and Fabio Fognini (2014-  )
  • Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov (2012-2015)

Strange way to celebrate 

Tennis players tend to smash their racquets out of frustration, discouragement or plain old rage. Zverev, Djokovic, Medvedev, Kyrgios, Murray, Dimitrov and Paire and even Serena Williams and Simona Halep have all become angry tennis memes.  

On April 8, Lorenzo Musetti took the racquet smash to a whole other, wildly different level after fighting off four match points and winning the third-set tie-break in his second-round match against Dan Evans at the Sardegna Open in Cagliari.  

In his post-match interview, Musetti surprised the media when said Evans had been disrespectful to him during their showdown. But does that explain such an extreme reaction by a winner?  

No further questions, your honor!

The final word – or lack thereof – goes to Hubert Hurkacz, after the Pole’s first round victory against Italian Thomas Fabbiano, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, in Monte Carlo.

The fastest post-match press conference in the history of the tournament?

No comment!

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Email: privard@tenniscanada.com 

Twitter: @paul6rivard 

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