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Toni Nadal: Confident Rafa Will Win More Majors

By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, October 5, 2021

A foot injury forced Rafael Nadal to close the curtain on his 2021 season.

Toni Nadal, Rafa's uncle and original coach, believes the king of clay will make major strides in 2022—and is confident he'll " he'll be able to win some more Grand Slams" in the coming years.

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In a wide-ranging interview with the 3iguales Tennis Podcast, Toni Nadal expressed confidence his 35-year-old nephew will regain full form in his return next season though he cautions matters will be "more complicated" for 40-year-old Roger Federer who is rehabbing from knee surgery.

"I think for Federer it's more complicated because he's 40 years old and comes from several operations that I don't know if it went well," Toni Nadal told the podcast. "In Rafael's case, I hope he has two or three good years left.

"I'm confident [Rafael will] be able to win some more Grand Slams. The reality is that every year it is more difficult and every year young people get closer."

Toni Nadal said any GOAT debate cannot be truly determined until 20-time Grand Slam champions Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all depart the Grand Slam stage. The elder Nadal also concedes "if we look at the numbers, the best is Federer or Djokovic."

Uncle Toni, who told Tennis Now in a 2020 interview if he wasn't Rafael Nadal's uncle and coach he would root for Federer to win because he regards the Swiss Maestro's style as an ideal model, told the podcast he realized Djokovic would emerge as a multiple major champion when he saw the Serbian sweep Juan Monaco, his nephew's good friend, at the 2005 Wimbledon.

"I could never imagine that they would win what they did. Federer did see that he would be there as one of the best in history because he does everything well," Toni Nadal told 
3iguales Tennis Podcast. "When I saw that Rafael Nadal at 23-24 years old already had the [career] Grand Slam I began to think that he could win many things and that he could aspire to be one of the best.

"I saw Djokovic play at the age of 18 against [Juan] Monaco and when I got to the locker room I said to Rafael: 'We have a problem because I saw a very good player'. When someone is very good you realize it quickly.

"If we look at the numbers, the best is Federer or Djokovic. But Rafael has missed many Grand Slam tournaments due to injury and others have played them injured. Some other big one would have fallen. The 2009 Paris one was sure to have won it, but he had knee problems. The final of the 2014 Australian Open. If you look at it for the quality of the game it's Federer. We're going to wait for everyone's race to finish to decide who is the best."

These days, Toni Nadal spends much of his time as director of the Rafa Nadal Academy in his native Mallorca and as a co-coach of Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Asked to assess which young player—Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev or Andrey Rublev— will emerge as top champion of the younger generation, Toni Nadal said at his best US Open champion Medvedev is already as good as the Big 3, but believes the key quality for the next great champion is learning how to win when not playing your best.

"I see them as very similar to all of them. I don't know who is the best," Toni Nadal told the podcast. "The high level of people is very similar, the problem is at the low level.

"When Medvedev plays well he is at the level of Nadal, Federer or Djokovic, what happens is that when he plays badly his level drops a little more than that of Novak, Rafael or Roger. Whoever manages to stabilize that will be the best of young people."

Toni Nadal reveals he tried to model some qualities of the young Rafael Nadal's game on past left-handed champions, including Guillermo Vilas, Jimmy Connors and Thomas Muster, while trying to craft his nephew's forehand into a knockout strike. Toni Nadal suggests the prevalence of power in today's tennis has dumbed down the game, diminished players' tactical acumen and essentially makes many matches all about attacking the second serve.

"Today there is a concept of the game in which you attack the second serve," Toni Nadal said. "The game is faster than before. When Rafael and I arrived at the beginning you could play more, especially on clay with [Guillermo] Coria, with [Gaston] Gaudio, with people who fought you every point.

"There was more strategy. Today it is speed and the strategy is less and what is sought is to be the first to hit the ball. The players of before were more willing to think. Rod Laver or Guillermo Vilas, in their time, did not need a coach. They themselves thought what they should rectify.

"The tennis players of today think more about the problems to be solved by the coaches. You have everything studied with statistics. The reality is that if you don't hit the ball well, you don't win."

Photo credit: Rafa Nadal Academy