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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic

"Why are Rafael and Djokovic and Federer still there? Because the young ones are not too good," says Toni Nadal. 

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Simplicity is the key component to Toni Nadal's coaching philosophy.

The uncle and original coach of the 19-time Grand Slam champion says there's a plain reason why the Big 3 of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer continue collective major dominance.

More: Roland Garros Moves

The players pursuing them simply aren't good enough to depose the iconic trio who have combined to capture 13 consecutive Grand Slam crowns.

"Many times people ask me why are Djokovic and Federer and Rafael still there?" Toni Nadal said at 
the Toni Nadal Camp at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre in Costa Mujeres, Mexico. "It’s about technology, I think. It’s about what we say to our young.

"Why are Rafael and Djokovic and Federer still there? Because the young ones are not too good. This is the first reason. And this is something that we have to think—at least it makes me think. "

The camp at the tennis paradise that is the TRS Coral Hotel was part of the 50th anniversary of Palladium Hotel Group. Tennis Now was part of a group of seven media members to attend and will report on that unique experience later this week.

Though 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Federer and Dominic Thiem to claim the ATP Finals championship in November, 24-year-old Daniil Medvedev pushed Nadal to five sets before falling in a fierce US Open final last September and Thiem tested Djokovic in a five-set Australian Open final loss in January, Toni Nadal believes many young players lack a sense of perspective.

Instead of prioritizing practicing and improving, Toni Nadal believes some young players and their coaches are caught up in ancillary issues that can become alibis.  

"Before, when Rafael was young, we had tennis racquets, some balls, some sparring—sometimes good, sometimes not too good—and we had not too many things," Toni Nadal said. "Now, to play tennis, we need some video analysis, we need biomechanical analysis, we need statistical studies, we need a nutritionist and when we lose some matches, what happens? We need some psychology.

"What happened? What happened? It’s very simple—they are not too good. It’s nothing else. Many years ago, a girl asked me why I make this mistake? I said it’s because I am not good enough. But today, no. Today, when we lose some matches we go to the psychologist and the psychologist says: ‘Oh, you have to imagine this and this and only these things.’ Unbelievable."

The man who heads the Rafa Nadal Academy in his native Mallorca suggests NextGen stars and their coaches have needlessly complicated the simple maturation process.

"Because all the sports are very simple," Toni Nadal said. "Now we want to complicate everything because if not then how can I say I am a good coach if I don’t make things as complicated?

"Because tennis is simple. When I make a mistake I go and practice a little more—and that’s all. People start to play tennis today when they are five years old and they improve and they are now 23 years old and they are not good enough.

"When we arrived on the ATP Tour the best players were: Andy Roddick, 20 years old. Federer, 21, Hewitt, 21, Coria, 21, Nalbandian, 21. Then Ferrero, 23, Safin, 24. Now the best players are Roger, 38, Rafael, 33, Djokovic 32  and Murray. What happened?

"We have many things and the people improve later. Something’s wrong. It’s because, in my opinion, they think of not the most important things. This is true. I think in this time the people think too much importance to the secondary kind of things and not too much importance on the central things and that’s what happens today. They give importance to the fashion and other things and then we think everything goes good and we forget what the most important thing is."

Hall of Famer John McEnroe, who held the world No. 1 ranking in singles and doubles, asserts the Big 3 are the best players in history and more versatile and complete than those chasing them.

"Djokovic is arguably the greatest hard court player in the history of tennis," McEnroe said. "To me you're looking at the three best players that ever played with Rafa and Roger. Those [young]  guys at this point, they're not as good as those other guys.

"That's the biggest reason. They're not as versatile. They don't have as much overall talent. They haven't been in those positions as often.

"They're trying to figure out ways to improve their games, but maybe they just expected it would happen, and it's not that simple. These guys have great teams. They leave no stone unturned, and they are tougher to beat in best of five than they are best of three. They have to continue to accept that they need to keep adding these younger players, adding to their game, doing something different."

It's been more than five years since Marin Cilic broke through to win the 2014 US Open—he remains the last man to win a maiden major.

The top-ranked Djokovic swept Tsitsipas to stretch his winning streak to 21 matches and collect his fifth Dubai title earlier this month. Eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic sees Tsitsipas as a future Grand Slam champion.

“For sure he has a great potential to be No. 1 of the world and win slams and be the great ambassador of our sport,” said Djokovic, who has beaten Tsitsipas in three of five meetings. “He already is, but he has great future ahead of him, I'm sure.”


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