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Delpo: 'Rafa Always Has A Little More Than The Rest'

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Juan Martin del Potro had the perfect response when asked following his five-set quarter-final defeat to Rafael Nadal whether he’d come back to win the Wimbledon title in 2019.  

“If I recover myself after this match, yes,” he said, with a smile.

The 6’6” Argentine slipped at match point down and laid with his face in the Centre Court grass after four hours and 48 minutes of high-quality tennis Wednesday, rising after the World No. 1 climbed over the net to greet him at the baseline. “I wanted to stay there for all night long,” said Del Potro, “but Rafa came to me and we made a big hug, and it was kind of him.”

Last month when they met in the Roland Garros semi-finals, Nadal had dropped a total of seven games. At the All England Club, Del Potro had led two sets to one, and held chances to get back on serve in a fifth set lauded by Andy Murray on BBC TV as “one of the best sets I’ve ever seen”.

“I’m glad to play in this level against the No. 1 in the world. For me it’s so good, looking forward to the future,” said Del Potro. “I was close to beat him and I couldn’t because Rafa always has a little bit more than the rest of the players on tour. I think I have to keep working hard to see if in my next opportunity I can beat him.”

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Should the two players face off again this season, the rematch will likely come on hard courts. While Nadal leads their overall FedEx ATP Head2Head series 11-5, on hard courts they are even, 5-5. Del Potro’s lone victory over the Spaniard at a major came in the 2009 US Open semi-finals, en route to his first Grand Slam title.

Del Potro took satisfaction from his ability to shine on different surfaces this season, with his recent runs at Wimbledon and Roland Garros complementing an excellent hard-court campaign. He enjoyed a 15-match winning streak earlier this year, clinching titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells – his first ATP World Masters 1000 crown (d. Federer) – before his run came to an end in the Miami semi-finals (l. to Isner).

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“I’m playing good tournaments on different surface[s],” he said. “Now I’m looking forward to keep playing in this level at the US Open, which is one of my favourite tournaments to play. I will try to improve a little bit more. If I have chances to play Rafa or the top guys, I would like to be in that level to do a better match than today.”

Del Potro will have a chance to hone his game when he makes his return on hard courts in three weeks at the Abierto Mexicano de Tenis Mifel presentado por Cinemex. It’s a welcome destination for the man who played for nearly five hours Wednesday.

“I play Los Cabos in Mexico, the beach (smiling),” he said.



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Ivo's Big Regret

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Thirty-nine year old Ivo Karlovic, who faces German Jan-Lennard Struff in the Wimbledon second round on Wednesday, has accomplished much to be proud of during his 19-year career. He’s won eight tour-level titles, including five since he entered his mid-30s. He’s hit more than 12,700 aces and has earned more than $9 million in prize money.

Earlier this year, he became the oldest player to reach the Australian Open third round in 40 years, since 44-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1978.

But Karlovic, like most working folks, would still handle a thing or two differently if he could do over his career. Namely, he’d change his one-handed backhand. The 6’11” right-hander holds 92 per cent of the time, but, like other big servers, he struggles to break, winning only nine per cent of his return games, according to his Infosys ATP Scores & Stats.

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But a better backhand, Karlovic thinks, more specifically, a two-handed backhand would have helped him break more often throughout his career.

“The No. 1 thing that I always regret is not having a two-handed backhand. Because I think in today’s game it would be a lot easier to return the ball,” Karlovic told ATPWorldTour.com. “Plus, I don’t know anybody who is tall and has a one-handed backhand, because it’s really difficult. When I was young, if I had a different coach, probably I would be even better.”

Few coaches, at the time, though, were teaching two-handed backhands, and the ATP World Tour stars Karlovic watched on TV while growing up in Croatia in the 1980s and ’90s – John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg – all had one-handed backhands.

Watch: Ace King Karlovic Continues To Thrive

But at least tennis didn’t lose the well-liked and easy-going Dr. Ivo because of frustration. That’s more that can be said for basketball.

Karlovic tried out the sport when he was 13. The Croatian was barely a teenager but he was already 6’6” and, because of tennis, could cut well and run the floor. So coaches made him practise with 18- and 19-year-olds. That didn’t go well with Karlovic. He quit after six months and never went back, despite five years of calls from the basketball coaches.

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“They were on the phone every day, calling me to come back, years after that, every day. Unbelievable. But I was always saying no,” Karlovic said. “The last time they called me was when I was 18.”

The big man, however, has no immediate plans of stopping tennis. So long as he’s healthy and able to play the big tournaments, such as Wimbledon, he’ll be on court.

It’s all about injuries, health and motivation,” Karlovic said. “Right now I’m healthy and motivated, so as long as my [ATP] Ranking is up where I can be at all the events, I will not think about retiring.”



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Dimitrov: 'There’s No Reason To Panic’

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Grigor Dimitrov appeared to break through in 2017, claiming his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati before lifting the trophy at the Nitto ATP Finals to finish the season at a career-best No. 3 in the ATP Rankings.

But the Bulgarian has struggled to find his top form in 2018, reaching just one final in Rotterdam, and carrying a 19-12 record into Wimbledon, where he advanced to the semi-finals in 2014. It didn’t get better for the 27-year-old at the All England Club, as the sixth seed served for a two-sets-to-one lead before ultimately losing to three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in four sets.

“There’s no reason to panic or anything. I’m not that type of a person anyway. I’ll try to remain positive because I know that’s one of the toughest things, especially when you exit early in the tournament,” Dimitrov said. “You have to stay positive, simple as that. You can’t just go down on yourself.”

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Sure, it was not an easy draw for Dimitrov. Wawrinka has also climbed as high as World No. 3 and he now owns 51 victories against opponents inside the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings, tied for 19th all-time. That’s little consolation to the Bulgarian, though.

“It’s hard for me to just accept losing, period,” Dimitrov said. “Especially at an event like this that I’ve done so well at in the past. I’ve beaten big names on that Centre Court, played tough matches against big players. It’s kind of at the same time a tough pill to swallow. Again, in order to get to the trophy, you need to win seven matches.”

Dimitrov admits that he put himself in a position to win on Monday, but just could not close it out. The World No. 6 felt good during practice throughout the past week. If he finished off the third set, perhaps the outcome would have been different. A few small footwork mistakes and a few unforced errors might have made all the difference. And now, instead of preparing for a second-round match, Dimitrov is left thinking of the bigger picture.

Dimitrov

“I always want more for myself. Maybe this is what the body can take right now. I think it’s very tough when you reach a certain level and you want to go forward, but there’s the last, like, two, three per cent that are the toughest ones,” Dimitrov said. “Each year you’re growing, growing. You’re [World No.] 3. What is the next step? Wow, I can be No. 1. For me, those are the steps that are going to make the biggest difference.

“There’s an accumulation of a lot of matches, beating up on the body, especially on the mental side. I mean, considering how many matches I had to fight through and come back from a set down on many occasions. Yeah, I mean, part of it could be, to be honest. But in order to be the best, that’s what you need to be doing every single year.”

Dimitrov did not expect his ascent to be easy, even after the best year of his career in 2017. Everybody faces adversity. And the loss against Wawrinka — he said ‘even in my wildest dreams I haven’t dreamed of losing first round’ — stings. But now, it’s about looking ahead, regrouping, and beginning to work toward top form again.

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“It’s a bumpy road, simple as that. For sure I’m not happy to lose first round in Wimbledon. I don’t remember when was the last time that happened to me,” Dimitrov said. “It’s still a bit of a shock to me. I need to accept it, I guess. I don’t know what I will do now. I think one of the best things in a way is, I’m trying to find the silver lining, is that I can take some time off, really put the racquet aside now for plenty of time, if I have to be honest.

“A little break, I think, couldn’t hurt anyone. The most important thing is, as I said, which is one of the toughest things, to remain positive. That is absolutely the toughest task. Knowing you’re out, watching the matches on TV is not going to be easy. If it was easy, that wouldn’t be tennis.”



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Dzumhur To Play Vesely In Antalya SFs

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Damir Dzumhur was solid on serve at the Turkish Airlines Open Antalya on Thursday when he moved to within one win of a place in his fourth ATP World Tour final (2-1 record). The second seed knocked out Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France 6-4, 6-1 in 63 minutes and will meet Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.

Dzumhur, who is two spots off his career-high of No. 28 in the ATP Rankings (first attained on 11 June this year), won two titles in 2017 at the St. Petersburg Open (d. Fognini) and the VTB Kremlin Cup (d. Berankis). The 26-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina also finished runner-up at the Winston-Salem Open (l. to Bautista Agut).


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World No. 103 Vesely advanced to his first ATP World Tour semi-final for 14 months (2017 Grand Prix Hassan II) with a 7-6(5), 6-2 win over Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia in 78 minutes. Basilashvili lost just four of his first-service points, but Vesely was able to capitalise on two break points off second serves.

The 24-year-old Vesely, with a 1-1 record in ATP World Tour finals, was at a career-high No. 35 on 27 April 2015.

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Rodionov Makes History For Austria With Maiden Title

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If Jurij Rodionov has been flying under the radar over the past year, he will be a household name soon enough. Dominic Thiem is undoubtedly the face of Austrian tennis, but the World No. 7 could have some company at the pinnacle of the game in the near future.  

At the age of 19 years and one month, Rodionov claimed a slice of history for the European nation on Saturday, becoming just the fourth Austrian teenager to win an ATP Challenger Tour title. He is the youngest to do so since 1986, when both an 18-year-old Thomas Muster and a 17-year-old Horst Skoff achieved the feat.

Rodionov lifted his first trophy on Saturday in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ousting Pedja Krstin 7-5, 6-2 to cap an impressive week at the clay-court tournament. He is just the second teenager to win a Challenger title this year, joining Rudolf Molleker (Heilbronn). 

2018 #NextGenATP First-Time Winner Spotlight: Molleker | Polmans | Hurkacz

Rodionov’s victory in Almaty is as improbable as it is impressive. The teen was appearing in only his fifth Challenger main draw, all of which have resulted in quarter-final finishes or better. When given the opportunity to compete against the best, he has taken full advantage.

Last year, Rodionov made his first big splash at the $125,000 event in Ningbo, China, registering arguably the comeback and upset of the year, after rallying from 3-6, 1-5 down to stun Jordan Thompson for his first Top 100 win. He was ranked No. 691 at the time and now the 19-year-old is projected to ascend to a career-high No. 292 in the ATP Rankings on Monday.

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Born in Nuremberg, Germany, to Belarusian parents, Rodionov decided to play under the Austrian flag in 2015 after his father moved the family there for work. He admits that football was his first love, but wasn’t allowed to play until age six, so he decided to pick up a racquet.

Rodionov spoke to ATPWorldTour.com following his victory in Almaty…

Jurij, congrats on winning your first Challenger title. Talk about how it feels.
Now it feels amazing, but during the match I was feeling all the pressure. My serve wasn’t working very well, but after match point it was a big relief for me. Now it’s a really good feeling.

You are just the fourth Austrian teenager to win a Challenger title. What are your thoughts when you hear that?
Wow, I didn’t know that. It’s a great achievement and I’m very proud of myself and my great team who supported me throughout this long week. All these hours in the gym finally paid off.

You beat some strong players during the week. What went right for you?
Pretty much everything. I talked with my coach about tactics every day and it worked on the court. I’m just happy I could play like I did this week.

To come through qualifying and win a title is never easy. How did you stay mentally focused all week?
That’s a good question and I don’t know, to be honest. A lot of players and coaches ask me that. I don’t know. Somehow it just works and I’ve stayed focused. It’s been a long week. I’m proud of that.

Rodionov

How much confidence did you take from Loughborough and Shymkent to go even further here?
Yes, a lot of confidence from those events. Before Loughborough I didn’t play my best tennis, but after that I gained a lot of confidence and put it together in Almaty. I’m playing my best tennis now.

You got one of your biggest wins over Yannick Hanfmann in the semis. Do you now believe that you can compete with these top players?
Well, last year I already beat Jordan Thompson. He was Top 100. I knew I could compete against the best, but I lacked a bit of consistency. I was working on that throughout the year in 2017. Now I believe even more that I can compete with these players.

You are up to a career-high in the Top 300. Did you set any goals at the start of the year and what are they now?
At the start of the year, my goal was to win a Challenger and to be in the Top 250. So the first goal I already achieved and the second one I’m very close. We’re only halfway through the year, so I’m in a good position.

2018 #NextGenATP Challenger Winners (born 1997 or later)

Player Age Tournament
Rudolf Molleker 17 yrs, 6 mos. Heilbronn, GER
Jurij Rodionov 19 yrs, 1 mo.  Almaty, KAZ 
Taylor Fritz 20 yrs, 3 mos. Newport Beach, USA
Reilly Opelka 20 yrs, 8 mos. Bordeaux, FRA
Marc Polmans 20 yrs, 9 mos. Launceston, AUS
Jaume Munar 21 yrs, 1 mo. Prostejov, CZE
Hubert Hurkacz  21 yrs, 3 mos.  Poznan, POL 

For those of us who don’t know much about you, tell us something. What do you enjoy doing off the court? Do you have any passions outside of tennis?
I’m a big football fan. I support Arsenal FC. Other than that, I just enjoy time with my friends. Going out, eating out with them. The casual stuff.

You are also up more than 30 spots in the Race to Milan. What are your thoughts on the Next Gen ATP Finals?
Of course it would be nice to get there, but hopefully next year. It’s a bit too soon for this year. I’m focused on getting better at the Challenger level and improving my game. Maybe next year it will be my goal.

ATP Challenger Tour 



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Matkowski/Lindstedt Lead Day Of Doubles Upsets In Stuttgart

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© Peter Staples/ATP World Tour


Marcin Matkowski and Robert Lindstedt advance to their first semi-final as a team since the 2015 Sydney International.


Polish-Swedish pair seek first ATP World Tour final as a team

In their first match as a team since 2015, Robert Lindstedt and Marcin Matkowski fell in a third-set tie-break in the first round at Roland Garros against Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut. But they have not let the disappointment resonate, upsetting No. 3 seeds Max Mirnyi and Philipp Oswald 6-3, 6-4 at the MercedesCup in Stuttgart on Thursday to advance to their first semi-final as a pair since the Sydney International three years ago. 

Lindstedt/Matkowski will attempt to reach their first ATP World Tour final together when they face Marton Fucsovics/Mischa Zverev or Jonathan Eysseric/Lucas Pouille. Eysseric and Pouille surprised No. 2 seeds Ben McLachlan and Jan-Lennard Struff 6-7(5), 6-3, 10-7 in a late opening-round match on Thursday. 

The seeded casualties continued, as wild cards Philipp Petzschner and Tim Puetz battled past No. 4 seeds Marcelo Demoliner and Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-7(5), 10-6. The Germans will look to continue their run in the semi-finals against top seeds Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi and Jean-Julien Rojer. The Pakistani-Dutch team survived a battle, ousting Nick Kyrgios and Jackson Withrow 7-6(3), 6-4.

Fourth Seeds Advance In ‘s-Hertogenbosch
No. 4 seeds Divij Sharan and Artem Sitak beat Romain Arneodo and Gilles Muller 7-6(2), 6-3 to reach the semi-finals at the Libema Open in the only doubles match of the day in The Netherlands.

Did You Know?
Robert Lindstedt and Marcin Matkowski have yet to reach a final as a team, but they have combined to win 39 tour-level titles.

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Surbiton's History Comes Alive At Grass-Court Challenger

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Founded in 1881, the Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club’s rich history permeates throughout the prestigious stop on the ATP Challenger Tour, as the three-week grass-court swing kicks off each year in the U.K. The atmosphere provides a quaint and traditional setting that the players overwhelmingly appreciate.

Located 15 minutes from central London, the club, which hosted last week’s Fuzion 100 Surbiton Trophy, has become a popular attraction with more than 1,500 members. The site’s many amenities include 20 tennis courts (11 grass, three clay and six hard, two of which are covered for indoor play), a gym and a bar/lounge area and a main pavilion that was built in 1900.

Some of the members have even offered to donate their time to ensure the tournament runs smoothly.

“We have around 80-100 volunteers do jobs at the event, including stewarding, driving and supporting the tournament in all aspects,” said Roy Staniland, director of the Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club for the past 30 years. “Some put up players in their own houses and really embrace the event. The members are very proud that their club is hosting such a prestigious tournament.”

The historic 137-year-old facility hosted the renowned Surrey Grass Court Championships for 70 editions, before holding its first ATP Challenger Tour event in 1998. The tournament ran for 11 consecutive years and returned to the circuit in 2015 after a brief hiatus.

“I was really happy with the tournament,” said Sunday’s champion Jeremy Chardy. “There were a lot of courts to practise on and the conditions were great. I’m always happy to play on grass. Some years are more difficult than others, but the game here is a lot of fun. For the moment I’m winning, so it’s easy to enjoy.”

“We are looking to have more grass-court opportunities for players at the Challenger level in particular,” said tournament director George Donnelly. “It’s to give these players the best opportunity to practise on grass with good facilities. And now we’re seeing those players breaking through at the bigger stages, so it’s exciting. 

“We had great weather in Surbiton with many spectators coming through the doors. We even had our first queue which we hadn’t had at this level for a while. But essentially it’s the level of player committed to this tournament, which is fantastic. It really helped and is a great start to the season, as we move on to Nottingham and Ilkley and then The Championships at Wimbledon.”

Surbiton is also known for its history-making performances on the court. Past champions include former Top 10 stars Mardy Fish (2006) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2007), with Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, Greg Rusedski and Thomas Johansson also competing there. 

In fact, future Wimbledon champions Hewitt and Federer both kicked off their professional grass-court careers at this very club, in 1998 and 1999, respectively.

And last year, Japan’s Yuichi Sugita became the first player to win grass-court titles on both the ATP Challenger Tour and ATP World Tour in a single season. After winning in Surbiton, he lifted his maiden tour-level trophy in Antalya.

“It was a very relaxing week in Surbiton,” added Taylor Fritz, who was making his second tournament appearance. “I think it helps me prepare for the bigger [ATP World Tour] events. It’s such a nice, cozy tournament and just being in this environment is good for me to mentally recharge. You feel the energy here, with the fans so close to the court.”

Fritz is one of many current #NextGenATP stars to grace the grass courts of Surbiton. Last year, Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur all featured in the same section of the qualifying draw. Today, the trio are the only teenagers in the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings.

Far more planning was devoted to organising the tournament this year than when it first launched. Preparations began 10 to 11 months away from when the first ball was hit and two weeks were devoted to building the venue out to accommodate spectators, compared to the three-day build in the tournament’s first year.

“It’s good to be playing at home and being around the other British boys,” said semi-finalist Daniel Evans, who was the last remaining British player in the draw. “The club has a traditional English feel to it and it’s nice that there’s a lot of people here watching.”

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How Uncle Toni's Tough Love Shaped Rafa

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&*#!!” curses Toni Nadal.

Interrupt Toni when he is in task mode and the oaths fly out of his mouth like hot sparks from a blacksmith’s anvil. It is important to understand that Toni does not curse casually, nor as a form of insult, rather of exasperation.

In this particular case, it is the frustration of being delayed and quite possibly missing a flight from Palma de Mallorca to Madrid. We are at the entrance of the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy in Manacor, and the airport is nearly an hour’s drive away. I am but one of a handful of obstacles keeping Toni from getting to the airport on time.

Standing aside, I watch Toni multi-task. He answers phone calls, signs papers, buttons his dress shirt, ties his leather shoes, and wrestles my oversize travel bag into the back of his two-door Mercedes SLC Roadster. Eventually, the retractable hardtop comes down, my bag goes in and we are ready to go. I briefly consider suggesting a hands-free apparatus for his phone, but then I realise that Toni Nadal is anything but hands-free.

Finally we are on our way. Toni looks at his watch and utters one last ‘&*#!!’. But this curse is different, a bit softer, more of a slow, drawn out sigh of relief. Leaving the academy, Toni drives through a mix of newly paved roads, narrow cobblestone alleys and a couple of roundabouts that he accelerates out of with the grace, speed, and confidence one would expect from Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso. As if on cue, the phone finally stops ringing just as Toni hits the Ma-15 highway.

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One time I have a big discussion with Pato Clavet,” Toni begins. “Pato believes it is his job to make sure his player has everything in order to play his best; racquets perfect, water, balls, and like this. And I say, ‘this is not my opinion.’ If Rafa forgets his water, I say, ‘Well, it is your problem, today you don’t drink water.’ My work is not to bring water. Do you want to be a professional coach or a waiter?”

Our route to the airport takes us through the heart of Mallorca, where windmills that used to grind grain and pump water cast long shadows over fields that produce almond, fig and olive trees in great abundance. Restaurants fortified with heavy brick barbeque grills and wood-fired ovens look like they were built to feed legions of Roman soldiers. Meals are peasant food soaked in olive oil and portions are big enough to last for days. While Barcelona may very well be the cradle of Spanish tennis, it is here on the island of Mallorca, part of Spain’s autonomous zone, that lie the clues to how the world’s most successful tennis coach was formed.

The relationship between player and coach is very important,” Toni continues as if some subterranean fire has been stoked inside of him. “Also it is the education that the player gets at home. My family formed my character. My father did not talk too much, but you see what he has done and I learned my character from his example.”

There can be no doubt where Toni Nadal’s demarcation line is drawn: respect for people.

In this life, respect is very important as it should come from the younger to the older persons,” Toni says. “Not the other way around. Unbelievable the way the young today behave not showing respect. &*#!!!”

Like the great Carthaginian General Hannibal, who was born here in the Balearic Islands, Toni commands by both example and charisma. Just as Hannibal was fueled by a single-minded purpose in defeating Rome, so too has been Toni’s intense focus on forming his nephew.

Nadal

With each military victory, Hannibal’s legend grew, and so too did Toni Nadal’s opinions gain merit with every Grand Slam Rafa won. While the amount of trophies they have collected together is impressive, equally so is that neither Toni nor Rafa fell victim to a trap as old as time. A trap that has tripped many a successful man – hubris.

What I remember most about Toni from my time on Tour was how kind he was to people,” remembers Peter Lundgren, former coach of Roger Federer and other ATP World Tour stars. ”He was always very polite.”

Juan Manual Esparcia of Spain, another ATP World Tour coach, has observed Toni and Rafa rise to greatness from the beginning.

Toni puts great emphasis on the education of strong values,” says Esparcia. “Rafa’s attitude to overcome the many adversities he has had to face and doing so in the most gracious manner, the example that Rafa Nadal gives to everyone every day, not only as a professional, but as a person, has Toni’s philosophy written all over it.”

Jack Reader, former coach of Viktor Troicki and Alexandr Dolgolopov, echoes a similar opinion.

We often practised with Rafa,” says Reader. “And I never once saw Toni say something to Rafa that Rafa did not immediately acknowledge. I don’t know what Toni would say, but I do know that from the outside theirs seemed a relationship built on absolute respect and trust.”

Toni recalls: “I have said to Rafa, ‘In my opinion you have to do this, but make what you want’… Do you think that I like to see my nephew’s forehand follow-through wrapping his racquet around his head? Many times I say to him about the biomechanics and physics of a tennis stroke. If you want to put the ball there, then the arm goes here. But make what you want; it is your problem. It is your responsibility.”

At heart Toni is a professor. And like any good teacher, he is an astute student. However, his form of communicating is not for the sensitive type.

Normally when you are not stupid you can learn,” Toni declares. “I have watched the greatest players in the world on the practice court and in competition. In this life, when you know that you are not the best and if you want to defeat the best you must be open to new ideas and keep learning to improve.”

A good example is Rafa changing his service grip two days before the start of the 2010 US Open. And then another change to the serve came before the 2016 US Open, where they experimented with more slice and angle. That being said, if after consideration Toni does not agree with something, then you will know it immediately.

I talk always about to make the things simple,” Toni says. “Today we have a problem that society believes if it is too simple, then it is difficult to earn too much money. I have seen many people talk about analytics. And they forgot to see how is the player with the ball? What is most important is to arrive good to the ball, follow through and have good movements around the court.”

It is true when you have more information, it is good, but information without the eyes and feeling of the coach is not enough. Many times you cannot see the things that analysts write. For example, the statistics say that you make 10 unforced errors with your backhand today. But maybe that is because your forehand is not right in this moment. A good coach needs to observe with his eyes on the situation, not just numbers on a paper.”

Agree or disagree with Toni, he is very consistent on the subject of eliminating excuses.

I was disappointed at Wimbledon in 2013,” Toni admits. “My nephew lost to Steve Darcis. Rafa says to me that he can do nothing as he has knee problems. I say, ‘No, I don’t agree. If this match was in the final would you play like this?’ After many years I know it is impossible to win always – it is a part of the game – but let us speak the truth.”

Esparcia says, “I think Toni’s best quality and strength is knowing to analyse the needs in each situation in order to reach the next goal… To give Rafa the right solution at specifically the right moment, and to find the way to motivate him, regardless of the circumstances he might be facing.”

Another time, in 2006 at the US Open,” Toni remembers, “and my nephew is complaining about the balls, that he cannot give them spin. Every day he is telling me the same. And so I say to Rafael, “OK, I go to the tournament director and see if he can change the balls for you.’ Then Rafael lost to James Blake. I go home to Mallorca and he went to Beijing and wins the tournament with the same balls he lost to Blake. So I ask him how the balls can take your spin in Beijing but not New York?”

There can be no better proof positive of the Pygmalion effect theory than Toni and Rafael Nadal.

I remember once we were in Barcelona at Carlos Moya’s house,” Toni recalls. “Rafa was 15 or maybe 16, and Carlos says to me, ‘Toni, would you sign your name that in the future that Rafael will be good like Alberto Costa?’ And I say, ‘No, I don’t sign because I believe that Rafael will be better.’ And Carlos Moya was a little surprised. Because immediately he says, ‘Do you sign that in the future Rafael will be like Carlos Moya?’ And I say, ‘OK, yes, because you were No. 1 in the world.’ But I did not sign anything. When I went out of the house with my nephew that night I said to Rafael, ‘You can be better than Carlos Moya, but I do not want to show disrespect to him in his house.’ I knew my nephew was special.”

For me was always too important to form the player,” Toni continues. “I was always happy when we were on the court and I was able to construct his game.”

Jose Perlas is one of the ATP World Tour’s most recognised coaches. There is not much in professional tennis, Spain or worldwide, that he has not seen.

In some ways it was a perfect storm,” begins Perlas. “The Nadal family had experience of being athletes at the highest level of sport. Toni knew what it took to be good, and he also knew how much work it took to sustain that level. He was a tennis coach who had very strong opinions and he spoke with great conviction. Then Rafa had all the physical and mental gifts of an exceptional athlete, and the intense hunger to be great. Toni was an extremely dedicated professional coach who understood how to use his authority while assembling a team of experts around Rafa.”

As we enter the airport a journalist and camera crew are assembled and waiting on Toni to arrive. Though Toni may not be on the ATP World Tour any more, he is still in demand. When your pupil has 16 Grand Slams and is considered one of the greatest players in the history of tennis, your opinions matter.

Quite possibly, Toni might be the last of the breed. That species of tennis coach who commands from the frontline while saying what needs to be said without fear of retribution. The coach of yesteryear who demands hard work every day, a good attitude, respect for the game and those people associated with it. And no matter how great the stakes or painful the loss, refuses to make excuses while offering a simple no-frills match analysis. My guess is that Harry Hopman would certainly approve of Toni Nadal.

– Reproduced with permission from Elite Tennis Journal



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