Rafael Nadal (Profile), fresh from his triumph at the 2013 US Open, has had a blistering return to the tennis courts this year. But where would the skilled but raw player have been in his career had it not been for the long-standing presence of his coach and uncle Toni Nadal?
Rafa is a pure athlete, and one that is unarguably suited to the modern tennis game, however it’s the graceful refinements (the forehand and backhand) designed by his uncle that have elevated Rafa’s ability from raw talent to world class champion. For some it’s hard to believe that for as long as Rafa has been at the top of the tennis game he’s had just one main coach behind him. Together the Nadal pairing has conquered the major slams and tournaments building Rafa’s current list of major titles to at total of 13.
The pair shares a true bond and their relationship as coach and pupil have drawn plenty of comparisons with Mike and Andre Agassi, Judy and Andy Murray and Peter and Steffi Graf. Unlike these other family/coaching duos, however, Toni contributes significantly to Rafa’s physical game, moulding the player into the danger that he is on court. He even coaches Rafa during his matches, a fact that many of his fellow players find difficult.
Speaking about his charge at the PNB Paribas Katowice Open, Toni said:
““I started to work with Rafa when he was three. I think that the ideal age to start playing tennis is around 5-6 years old; in this way the child has many other alternatives and a lot of time to learn how to play. But it hasn’t to be necessarily like this. Rafa was always enthusiastic to train, I never had to force him. He has a true passion for sport.”
The Nadal family is no stranger to sporting greatness, Miguel (Rafa’s uncle) was a professional football player for Spain and Barcelona. It’s no surprise then that Toni has always known what it takes to coach, mentor and develop such a leading light in men’s tennis. As Rafa recounts in his autobiography, his uncle would single him out during training making him sweep the courts after play and at times being quite brutal. However this unconventional method went on to develop a deep bond between the pair, with Rafa completely trusting the advice and coaching of his uncle and Toni truly believing in his talented nephew’s potential.