Interview by El Espanol, translation by Tennis Buzz
Within a year, you took Milos Raonic to his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, in addition to helping him climb from world number 14 to number 3. Why split?
One of the reasons is that I traveled too many weeks with Raonic in 2016, way more than I thought. I did about 18 weeks, many, many. In addition, I played several Champions Tour tournaments (the retired players’ circuit) and the IPTL (International Premier Tennis League). And it was a bit complicated for me. I traveled too much considering my family situation, being married with three children.
How did the opportunity to train Nadal appear?
Toni Nadal called me when I was playing IPTL. He knew that I was no longer with Raonic and asked me if I wanted to be part of the team and also of the academy. I said that in principle yes, but I needed to talk to Rafa. I wanted to know his level of involvement first. I could imagine it, but I needed to hear it from his own voice. I needed to know if he was willing to do everything to win back Grand Slam tournaments, to become world number one again … And yes, he did have a lot of predisposition, hunger and hope. For me, that was fundamental.
Did you really think you would not end up sitting in his box? I do not believe it…
No, it’s the absolute truth. It was always clear to me that he would end his career with Toni and Francis Roig, I never thought I would take the plunge. In any case, I am a person who comes from outside, but I am the least external that Nadal could have found. I think that has been something decisive. Rafa does not like changes, either in his life or in his environment. That’s why he accepts someone who knows that environment even before he works with him. Toni, Joan Forcades (physical trainer), Benito (head of press) …
Although I am still an outsider who sees different things, someone who he has trusted in the past as a friend. And I think the year I’ve done with Milos helps that, to take the plunge. Previously, Rafa could think that I did not want to travel. I think, but I don’t for sure, to see that I have traveled with Milos and that he has done well, it reassured him.
You have been a close friend of Nadal for a long time. Have you ever coach him without being his coach?
Never. Obviously we have talked about tennis, but I never stepped on that ground. It was a way for me to respect his team. If he had asked me something I may have said it, but I have not called Rafa to tell him to play a rival in a way or to train something in particular. That was not my place. I did not do it during the years I was alone, nor when I was with Raonic, logically. But of course we were in contact. He is my friend. I have a lot of affection and I want the best for him.
You come from helping to grow a player who has a huge margin of improvement. And now?
The focus is different, it has nothing to do. Raonic has not reached his limit, he has not reached his full potential. And Nadal is the other way around. He has come fully, but he wants to get closer to that higher level. One has not won anything big and the other has 14 Grand Slam tournaments. One has two years in the elite and the other more than 15. It has nothing to do, although the requirement will be the same.
If you miss Grand Slam finals you will see that you are still struggling for those titles. If during the next big eight does not pass eighth … because logically is not going to be good, will not enjoy. Sincerely, I see Nadal to fight for the maximum.
Won’t you have problems with all the travels?
I will do between 12 and 15 weeks this season. Rafa knows my family situation and respects it. And he wants me to be in his day to day and that I am part of the academy, which is a very important project for him. In the end, one of the keys is that I am in Mallorca and that will make it easier for us to be together.
Why has Nadal stopped winning?
2015 and 2016 are very different. In 2015, Rafa recognized that it was a mental problem, of pressure, of anxiety. In 2016, those problems were overcome and when he was at his best he was injured. After the injury he hurried up to play the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, but when I asked him about it he told me he would do the same because he won the gold medal.
He came back with pains, doubts, matches he had to win and he lost them … all that took his confidence away. He finished the year a little burned out because he could not have continuity due to those injuries. They are two different cases, although I prefer 2016. What happened last season is different and very surmountable, as long as he is not injured.
During this time, has he lost more edge in his forehand or his backhand?
The backhand can keep you in the game, but what will make you win a Grand Slam is to do the difference with the forehand. He has to recover the pace that he had, with which he suffocated the opponent.
And the physic condition?
He is not failing physically. Those who are playing the best tennis on the tour are older. Murray is being number one for the first time at age 29.
But he runs less than before, much less.
On the one hand, you’re less explosive when you get older, but if you’re 18, you’re number one and if you’re still playing at 30, you evolve. The rivals know you and they adapt. What you lose physically you gain with the knowledge of how the game in particular and tennis in general works.
It is also true that when you are older you lose audacity, perhaps because of the unconsciousness of youth, that you go crazy and things come to you. At 30 you think things over. You lose one thing and win in others, it is what is called experience.
Your coaching job officially starts in a few days, despite the fact that it started last week in Manacor. What does it mean to train Nadal?
Training Nadal is the greatest challenge I will ever have, the biggest challenge in my entire coaching career. First, for what Rafa means. Second, because I will never be able to train someone as big as him. And thirdly, for what we have lived together, what we have lived on the court and out of it. No challenge will be able to match this one. And I’m prepared for it, I’m going to impact on many things that can improve on the court, but also out of it.
Photo credit: Tennis Buzz
Today was my first day at Roland Garros. I arrived just in time to watch the end of Rafa‘s training with uncle Toni on court Suzanne Lenglen. Rafa mostly worked on his backhand and drop shots. Here are a few pictures, enjoy!
He played a great match. He missed hardly any balls. He served very well. His forehand, especially with the conditions the way they were today, was incredibly hard to control. As soon as he was inside the court he was hitting the ball so close to the line.
I think he played one of his best matches at Roland Garros
Nadal will face Djokovic who ousted Gulbis in the other semifinal. Nadal and Djokovic will face for the 42nd time on Sunday, the Serbian has won their last 4 meetings. So, who’s your favorite for the final Rafa or Novak?
Thanks a lot to Jérôme Chainay for the pictures!
Thanks a lot to Davinia for sharing her pictures from the Madrid Open:
Photo credit: Davinia
“Going into the Australian Open in 2009, I felt my chances of winning were as good as they had been at Wimbledon six months earlier. I had, in other words, a good chance. The ball bounces higher than it does at the US Open, so it doesn’t fly so fast and it takes my topspin well. What I hadn’t reckoned on was a semifinal like the one I had against my friend and fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. I won, in the end, but I had to battle so hard and was left so physically destroyed by the end of it. For most of the one and a half day of preparation I had for the final against Federer, I was convinced I had absolutely no chance of winning. The only time I’d felt like that before a Grand Slam final was at Wimbledon in 2006, but that was because I did not believe, in my heart of heats, that winning was an option.
Before the Australian Open final in 2009 it was my body that rebelled, begging me to call a halt. It didn’t cross my mind to pull out of the match but the result I anticipated, and for which I strove mentally to prepare myself, was a 6-1 6-2 6-2 defeat.
The semifinal I played against Verdasco was the longest match in Australian Open history. It was incredibly tight every step of the way, with him playing spectacularly, hitting an extraordinarily high percentage of winners. But I somehow held on, on the defense but making few erors, and after 5h14, I won 6-7 6-4 7-6 6-7 6-4. It was so hot on court that the two of us rushed to drape ice packs around our necks and shoulders in the breaks between games. In the very last game, just before the very last point, my eyes filled with tears. I wasn’t crying because I sensed defeat, or even victory, but as a response to the sheer excruciating tension of it all. I had lost the fourth set on a tie break, and that in a game so tense and in such conditions, would have devastating had I not been able to call on every last reserve of mental strength I’d accumulated over fifteen years of relentless competition. I was able to put that blow behind me and begin the fifth believing I still had it in me to win.
The chance finally arrived with me 5-4 and 0-40 up on Verdasco’s serve. That should have been it, with three match points, but it wasn’t quite. I lost both the first and second points. That was when it all got too much for me and I broke down; that was where the armor plating fell away and the warrior Rafa Nadal, who tennis fans think they know, revealed as the vulnerable, human Rafael.
The one person who didn’t see it was Verdasco. Either that or he was in even worse shape than I was. Because his nerves got the better of him too. In a moment of incredible good luck for me (and terrible luck for him), he double faulted, handing me victory without me having to hit a shot. Both of us fell flat on our backs, ready to expire of physical and nervous exhaustion, but it was me who made it up first, stumbling forward and stepping over the net to embrace Fernando and tell him it was a match neither of us had deserved to lose.
The match ended at one in the morning, and i did not go to sleep till after five. […]
“No sooner had the match got under way than the the aches began to recede. So much so that I won the first game, breaking Federer’s serve. Then he broke me back, but as the games unfolded I found, to my great relief, that I wasn’t out of breath, and while my calves still felt heavy, there were no signs of the muscle cramps I had feared. And none materialized, despite the match going to five sets. In the end, as Titin says, pain is in the mind.
If you can control the mind, you can control the body
I lost the fourth set, as I had done against Verdasco, after going two sets to one up, but I came back, my determination bolstered and my spirit enhanced by the surprise and delight I felt at having made it as far as I had without falling apart. At 2-0 up in the fifth set I turned to where Toni, Carlos, Tuts and Titin were sitting and said, just loud enough so they could hear, in Mallorquin, ‘I’m going to win’. And I did. Toni had been right. Yes, I could. I won 7-5 3-6 7-6 3-6 6-2 and I was Australian Open champion; to my astonishment I had come back to life, and there it was, my third of the four Grand Slam titles, now my sixth overall.”