Moya: 'When He Plays Like This, Nadal Is Not Inferior To Anyone'
While Rafael Nadal forges his way past one opponent after another at Wimbledon, former World No. 1 Carlos Moya is busy attending exhibition matches on his home island of Mallorca, Spain.
Coach Moya, an integral piece of Nadal’s team since 2017, opted to skip the trip to England as Nadal’s longtime coach Francisco Roig’s oversees matters at The Championships. That doesn’t mean coach Moya isn’t keeping track of his charge’s matches; the Spaniard is following all the action on television as a partial spectator and as a shrewd tactician.
Moya spoke with ATPTour.com to discuss Nadal’s progress so far at the tournament and to break down the semi-final clash against Federer.
You spent the first week of Wimbledon preparations by training with Nadal in Mallorca.
That week in Mallorca, two weeks before this event, was spent adapting to the grass, nothing more. The training was almost exclusively with me, where we made slight alterations after a long period playing on clay.
That week isn’t meant to be perfect; it’s more about adjusting to the surface. Then came the week before Wimbledon, when he played games and spent hours on the court in London. From there, training shifted to strategising specifically for the tournament. I tell Rafa this all the time: During training, things don’t have to be perfect every day, they need to be perfect when the tournament starts. And even then, at most other events, it isn’t critical to be performing flawlessly through the first two or three rounds.
Here though, it is crucial he’s at his best from the start. Wimbledon is one of the few tournaments where everything needs to be 100 per cent from the beginning, especially considering the draw and the surface. The most important thing is that he stays measured and gauges his progress.
That week in Mallorca wasn’t the time or place for him to peak. Each day is a step forward in terms of raising his game.
That second-round contest against Nick Kyrgios felt like more than your average second round.
This year’s draw was the worst possible (for Nadal). On a mental level, what Kyrgios demands of you ... He’s a player who has already triumphed in these circumstances, just as he did in 2014 (d. Nadal 7-6(5), 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-3). He won at Acapulco this year as well (d. Nadal 6-3, 7-6(2), 7-6(6)). He is a very dangerous player for anyone to face, the opponent everyone hopes to avoid.
The good in that is if you defeat someone like him or you manage to come through a tough side of the draw, your confidence rises, just as Nadal’s has. He has taken his game into another gear. If you overcome that adversity early on, it gives you confidence in the later stages of the tournament.
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We can agree then that the match against Kyrgios was a turning point.
Yes. Overcoming a stiff test against Kyrgios in the second round has given Rafa the confidence to compete at the level he’s at now.
What’s his best asset at the moment?
Rafa’s doing everything right. His serve, his return, his rhythm, his defence ... I’m watching from home, breaking down plays as I see them and thinking in my head how I’d be handling every situation, playing every point... I can honestly say he’s doing exactly what I’d be doing or wanting him to be doing. That doesn’t mean I’m right, but the results prove he’s performing at a spectacular level.
Like never before?
Last year he played very well. Each year he’s proving to be more and more effective on grass. In 2017, he had two bad sets with Muller and couldn’t recover, but he was playing very well throughout. Last year he convinced himself that he could win Wimbledon again, and he was very close to doing just that. His positive attitude has been key to his success. His game is very potent on this surface; I’d almost go so far as to say it’s his second-best surface.
Nadal handled Roger Federer a few weeks ago at Roland Garros. What changes going into this semi-final match, considering it’s on grass?
Defending and second-guessing on grass are more complicated. The one who strikes first is the one who has more options to win the point. In the end, the grass rewards aggression.
You always have to try to play in favour of the surface on which you compete. On clay, you can work the point more and afford not to take as many risks. It’s the opposite on grass. Rafa is doing very well at dictating play so far. Against Federer, he doesn’t need to change anything, since his grass-court play is perfect the way it is. We know Rafa is set to face a very tough opponent, but he should not change anything.
Is there one clear favourite?
There is no favourite. When he plays like this, Nadal is not inferior to anyone. The outcome is wide open. When he’s at full strength, Rafa is almost always the favourite, regardless of the surface. I don’t feel he’s inferior to anyone, honestly.
Nadal is just two majors shy of Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam haul. What are your thoughts on that?
You have to forget about that, even if it isn’t simple to look past. It’s always on people’s minds when Rafa and Roger meet, but I hope they know Rafa sees Roger as a lifelong rival, a special opponent. Their rivalry goes back a long way, many years and a lot of history now. It is probably the most important rivalry in the history of tennis. All that doesn’t matter to Rafa when they meet. He’s just looking for ways to inflict damage on Federer.
Have you recently re-watched the 2008 Wimbledon final?
Yes, but not for reference. They are two very different players compared to back then. They’ve both changed significantly. The fact that, 11 years later, they’re still in the Top 3 in the ATP Rankings says a lot. There are new faces, younger challengers, stronger athletes, but none can compete in terms of vast knowledge. At the end of the day, both Rafa and Roger are players who understand the game much better now than they did back in 2008.
The 2008 final was decided in five sets. Who would benefit in a match like that today?
Historically it should benefit Rafa, but we know what happened in the final of the Australian Open in 2017. Nadal understands that the match is going to be decided by fewer and fewer shots, even if that’s not what he wants. Shorter rallies, shorter points, shorter matches, less wear and tear.
Something else is clear: If Federer does not want a long, drawn-out match, there won’t be a long, drawn-out match. Whoever is more aggressive will have the upper hand in dictating the rhythm and flow of the match. Whoever goes on the attack in an ultra-aggressive manner will emerge victorious.