PARIS | Facing the Spaniard Rafael Nadal, Sunday morning at Roland-Garros, Félix Auger-Aliassime will enter the Philippe-Chatrier court with in mind “the idea of facing a tennis ball, and not a prize list”, assures his coach Frederic Fontang.
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“It’s for times like this that he’s been training since he was little. It’s to play on big courts, against the best players, ”adds the Frenchman.
On Saturday, the Quebecer practiced for 1:15 on court 12 against a left-handed opponent, to prepare for one of the biggest tests of his career.
Because Nadal in Paris is 13 titles and 108 victories against three defeats. And these three setbacks, they came from the racket of only two players: the surprising Swede Robin Soderling, in 2009, then the world number one, the Serbian Novak Djokovic, in 2015 and last year.
“There is no secret to beating Nadal at Roland-Garros. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have won 13 times,” the ninth-seeded smirked on Friday.
No secrets, no. And as Fontang explained on Saturday, Nadal or not, Auger-Aliassime always practices the same parts of his game, except for two or three aspects that he adapts depending on his next rival.
No revelations from Nadal
Nor will the revelations come from Toni Nadal, adviser to Félix and uncle of “Rafa”.
“Tonton” was present on the court alongside his new protege, with whom he has been working for a year now. But on Sunday, for this round of 16 match, around 9:30 am Quebec time, Toni Nadal will be sitting on neutral ground.
This question, it intrigues at Roland-Garros since the unveiling of the table. Because even if he does not want to recognize it, Nadal the uncle, who led his nephew to conquer his titles at the Porte d’Auteuil, is a star in Paris.
Again on Saturday, he multiplied autographs and “selfies” when he left the practice field. And the interviews in French, too.
“I’m going to approach this game as a spectator,” he said. No, I will not advise Felix to beat him. I won’t give tricks to beat someone I consider my son. »
If he considers the Quebecer as an “excellent student”, he had made him aware of this unwritten law from the start of their association.
“We must continue”
Whether he creates the feat or not today on clay in Paris, Félix will be able to approach the rest by telling himself that he has progressed on this surface.
Before starting the fortnight, Auger-Aliassime had never won a match in the big picture at Roland-Garros.
Fontang, himself a former player who has already reached the second round in Paris, was convinced it was “a matter of time”, as his player is doing well on the ochre.
“And over the matches, his level of play rose. There, we must continue. »
The battle of the youth for Leylah
It is not as blatant as that of her compatriot Félix Auger-Aliassime, but Leylah Fernandez will also be entitled to a good challenge this morning against the American Amanda Anisimova.
Like the Quebecer, the 27th favorite has been in great shape since the start of the fortnight. From the outset, the promising 20-year-old player beat the Japanese Naomi Osaka, former world number 1, in two sets.
But Leylah is no exception. In order to get her ticket for the round of 16 on Friday, she overcame the Swiss Belinda Bencic (14) in three sets of hard work.
Fernandez and Anisimova have already crossed paths this year. It was on hard courts, in Indian Wells. Leylah, 17th seed in Paris, had climbed the slope – saving four match points in the process – to push this match into three innings.
Anisimova had ended up giving up, hurt.
“I know his game, noted the American at a press conference. I haven’t faced a left-hander since the start of the tournament. It will be difficult, but I am enthusiastic. »
” She is incredible “
Despite her young age, Anisimova has already achieved great Grand Slam results. Two years ago, she reached the semi-finals at Porte d’Auteuil.
A feat that Fernandez, in all her kindness, underlined when she was questioned about her next game, which will be played at the Philippe-Chatrier starting at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, Quebec time.
“I know it will be a tough opponent, raised the Lavalloise. I just have to focus on myself. I remember watching her play and what she does is amazing. »
The forgotten title
At 19, Leylah will be making her first appearance in the round of 16 in Paris, her third participation.
But she won the title in France among juniors in 2019. A feat that the young racket had … forgotten.
“To be honest, this year it slipped my mind. It had helped the first years, when I arrived, to get used to it and find my marks on the circuit, ”she pointed out on Friday.
“Afterwards, I tried to find my own rhythm, my own way of training, of doing things, my own routine. This year, everything is falling into place. »
live from paris
There was a crowd to see Félix training
A few French people were in action during the day at Roland-Garros. There were also headliners, like the Russian Daniil Medvedev, world number two.
But at noon, Paris time, the stands of court 12 were still full to see Félix Auger-Aliassime train. There were more than a hundred people in the stands of the small field. The cameras of Netflix, which is filming a tennis documentary in the same genre as the series Drive to survivewere also on site, as well as those of Amazon Prime, which broadcasts the tournament in the evening.
And no, unlike most journalists at Roland-Garros, the spectators were not there to see Toni Nadal, the Quebec player’s adviser… Although the latter signed many autographs after practice, like his protege.
Champagne in the spotlight at Roland-Garros
Earlier this week, this section reported on the long lines that were forming all over the Roland-Garros site, due to large crowds, after two years of restrictions linked to the pandemic.
But it’s not just the pitches that are taken by storm. Early Friday evening, when there was congestion at the exit, several enthusiasts decided to turn to the Moët et Chandon kiosk, where champagne by the glass is sold (for 16 euros, i.e. $22).
In this photo, said kiosk is at the back, with an orange roof. Yes, behind so many people. A little difficult to spot.