Nadal On Felix: 'I Would Love To See Him At The Top Position'
Rafael Nadal has become synonymous with success at the Coupe Rogers. The Spaniard has won four titles in Canada (2005, 2008, 2013, 2018), but is aware that the #NextGenATP look to follow in his footsteps.
The top seed in Montreal has taken a particular liking to #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who will undoubtedly have the home crowd on his side this week. Nadal defeated the 18-year-old in their maiden FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting this year at the Mutua Madrid Open, but is impressed with what he sees in the rising star.
“I like his character,” said Nadal. "He’s a very well-educated and nice guy. He’s very passionate about the sport. He’s one of the players that I would love to see at the top position and winning trophies because I think he deserves it.”
Nadal’s hard-court breakthrough came 14 years ago in Montreal, when he won this event as a 19-year-old against Andre Agassi. Last year in Toronto, at the age of 32, the Spaniard became the oldest tournament champion in the Open Era when he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas on the Greek's 20th birthday.
But while he arrives as the top seed with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer not playing this year, Nadal isn’t looking beyond his next match. He could start his week against #NextGenATP Aussie Alex de Minaur, who prevailed last month at the BB&T Atlanta Open (d. Fritz). Two players that Nadal lost to this year, seventh seed Fabio Fognini and fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, are also in his half of the draw.
“When I get to a tournament, I try to work on my things and work on my game. It doesn’t matter whether Novak or Roger are here or not here,” said Nadal. "There are many great players here, so I have to just prepare myself as soon as possible and be ready for the action."
Nadal also shrugged off concerns about how his body will withstand the rigours of hard-court tennis. A right knee injury forced him to retire in last year’s US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro and shut down his season early. The same knee problem caused him to withdraw before his semi-final this year against Roger Federer at the BNP Paribas Open. But while his recent hard-court history has been troublesome for his body, Nadal refused to worry about what he can't control.
“If I’m thinking about this stuff when I play tennis, I cannot play tennis,” said Nadal. “I’m thinking about the ball, the opponent and what I have to do to play my best. I’m not worried. If something happens, then I will accept it and that’s it. I’m not putting more emphasis on it because when you think negatively, there’s more of a chance that things can happen.”
The Spaniard’s more relaxed approach is something he’s acquired over 16 years on the ATP Tour. Nadal used to rush back to Mallorca after difficult moments, but is now happy to hit the practice court and work to find solutions. With several weeks at home after Wimbledon, the top seed is now refreshed and ready to make the most of his North American hard-court swing.
“I’m able to understand how to enjoy more and relax between tournaments,” said Nadal. “Before when I was losing a match, I wanted to be back home as quick as possible. If I’m in Europe, yes, I will [go home], but if I am here, I will not go back if I have to play in two weeks. This is something that would be impossible for me 15 years ago, but I have changed my approach.”