Toni Nadal Reflects On Time As Rafa's Coach
Throughout Rafael Nadal's career, his uncle, mentor and former coach, Toni Nadal, has been an instrumental figure in guiding the Spaniard to success. Nadal, winner of 78 tour-level titles, has never downplayed the importance of having Toni by his side. His uncle stepped down from coaching duties at the end of last season and has since primarily focused his time into running the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in Mallorca, Spain.
Last year, Toni led coaching duties as Nadal defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 to lift his 10th title on the Parisian terre battue. This week, however, Toni is in Paris solely to support the World No. 1 in his quest for an 11th championship at the event. He was in the stands for his nephew's first three matches at Roland Garros, including the Spaniard's 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Richard Gasquet on Saturday.
"This new phase of my career is completely different," Toni told ATPWorldTour.com moments after attending Rafa's practice session with current coach Carlos Moya on Court 24. Also present at the workout session was retired player Carlos Costa, who acts as Rafael's agent, and physiotherapist Rafael Maymo. "Before, I'd be coaching Rafa during his practices but I'm as a visitor, and only for a few days.
This is the first time since 2005 that Toni isn't serving as coach to his nephew at Roland Garros. Rafael captured his first of 10 titles at Roland Garros that year. Toni has fond memories of both his coaching duties and the success Rafael achieved at the Grand Slam.
"I loved coming here to Roland Garros, as well as other cities like Monte Carlo and Barcelona," Toni said. "It felt so good to be a part of something that made history [Nadal became the first player to win 10 titles at the same Grand Slam event]. I'm no longer on the road as much since I turned over coaching duties, but life at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar keeps life interesting."
Although he might not be on site at events nearly as often, Toni still closely follows what happens on the ATP World Tour.
"I'd say, besides Rafa, the most serious contenders are Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev. The usual suspects," Toni said of the favourites at Roland Garros. "And I'd throw Juan Martin del Potro into that group as well."
Of that list, it's the seventh-seeded Thiem who stands out in bold letters to Toni, considering his success on clay. The Austrian was 6-2, 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 winner over Kei Nishikori on Sunday and will face No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals. Thiem defeated Rafael in the quarter-finals at the Internazionali BNL id'Italia in 2017 and in the quarter-finals at the Mutua Madrid Open this year.
"Dominic is the only player who has managed to beat Rafa in the past two years on clay," Toni said. "He's a complete player with no glaring weaknesses and is tough to defeat."
So is Thiem the clay-court heir to Nadal's throne?
"Dominic adapts well to clay, but the reality is you have to play well against all competition and on all surfaces. Rafa is much more than [just a clay-court expert]," Toni explained. "There are so many emerging talents right now in the game."