Very interesting,Talking about Federer,Nadal's injury in Rome 2010,Treating Rafa Hard etc...........
“I prefer being too hard”
After winning the U.S. Open, the world has surrendered at the feet of Rafa Nadal. He has become the youngest player in history to win all four Grand Slams, now everyone is wondering about the key to his success. Well, only Toni Nadal, his uncle, mentor and coach from his earliest childhood, knows the answer. Humility, work, exigency, discipline, the illusion of being yourself … are words that have been burned into the mind of the number one. We talk in exclusive with the man behind the machine.
Porto Cristo. Mallorca. 13 km from Manacor. Nadal Territory. Everyone here, except the waves of tourists who visit the caves of Drach, knows any member of the most popular clan of the island.
From his home, Toni Nadal points to a mansion across the bay, dominated by a tower and surrounded by trees: “It is (the house) of my brother Miguel Angel”. Toni’s house, meanwhile, is austere, minimalist, with large windows and a garden that hangs over the cliff. Sitting on the terrace, the uncle and trainer of the youngest winner of the four Grand Slams responds firmly to all that is questioned of him. Namely: the keys of success of his nephew. For him, Rafael, not Rafa,- that he illustrates with anecdotes revealing his own childhood, Nadal’s family , his distrust of certain coaches and the press, his admiration for Vicente del Bosque … Response to Response, alternating his gaze between the eyes of his interlocutor and the horizon line, Nadal breaks down the keys of his ideology. At 49 years old, this father of three children, combines caution and vehemence with the same natural ease with which his nephew opens with racquet shots the doors of history.
XLSemanal. Would you say that you have been too hard with Rafa?
Toni Nadal. Yes, many times. Too much [laughs]. You always tense the string and sometimes you go too far. Besides being his coach, I’m his uncle and that is crucial. I have more desire that he has to be good, more authority over him and more confidence. These three things, on the other hand, do sometimes to put too much pressure. I’m pretty hard, to tell the truth, at least with words. I do not like flattery. It’s a family matter.
XL. Has your nephew said something like “Yes, Uncle Toni, well, okay, whatever you say, but give me a break”?
T.N. Yes, of course, but generally he pays attention to me. I remember once, in Shanghai a few years ago, we went down in the elevator of the hotel for dinner. Rafael went with shorts and his press manager said, “Hey, in the restaurant you have to wear long pants, and he added, ‘although nobody would say anything to you’” I reproached him: “What education are you giving him”. And to Rafael, “Go and change your pants.” He did so. He respected the principle of authority.
XL. “Without protest or dragging his feet?
T.N. That’s right. He was the No. 2 and was 19 years old, but he said: “I’ll go up and change.” He was educated like all his life and it seemed right for him. If you give a child carte blanche at 17 years old because he is a success, it is normal that at 24 he will be an idiot. It’s not the case of Rafael. Now you don’t have to tell him what he should do.
XL. You were professional. At what age did your nephew starting beating you at tennis?
T.N. When he was 13 years old. I told him that I was ill. And he (said): “Come on now, there is always something wrong with you when you lose. You’re getting dizzy, or your back…So there is no way to win [laughs]. ”
XL. “In your career, did you make mistakes that have permitted you to have things clearer to coach Rafa?
T.N. Sure. All my life I was shocked when people say, “If I were born again, I would do exactly the same.” It sounds arrogant and stupid, not be willing to make progress or change. I was a tough player, very defensive, I missed few balls, but I didn’t know how to win a point. I understood that to be good you had to do something different.
XL. Rafa has always been considered tough, but of course, he really knows how to win the points …
T.N. It’s funny. I always wanted him to be aggressive. He was when he was (playing) infantil, cadet, junior, only he entered the professional circuit very early (at 15 he was the youngest player to win a match in an official tournament of the ATP). He began to play with people very superior to him and he found it difficult to attack. Over the years he has recovered aggressiveness and he attacks more and more.
XL. Athletes are increasingly more precocious, because they start at an early age. Rafa, if I remember correctly, held a racquet at three years of age. Is it not a lot of pressure for a child?
T.N. In the case of Rafael, I don’t think so. Everybody else has helped him, but he is there because of his desire to be there. Anyway, it is true that there is a growing precocity, at everything. Parents want to start them as soon as they can, there is much obsession with triumph, to be better prepared than others.
XL. You weren’t afraid that, being so young, the circuit was a bit too big for him?
T.N. Never, Rafael had worked hard since childhood, he had the right conditions. He had, yes, the bad luck to have such a hard coach [laughs], but I don’t think he regrets it. I remember once we went to play a tournament at San Juan de Luz, he was 16 or 17 and he was already earning a lot of money. He had a contract with Nike and Babolat. At night he went with a friend for dinner and in the morning he told me they had ordered a seafood platter, and I reproached him: “At your age, what you have to do is eat hamburger.” He has never been a person to spend money, in fact, he just bought his first car and to do this, he asked his father’s permission. He has always maintained both feet on the ground. When you live like this from being a kid and it is a habit, it is harder to go off the rails
XL. Told like that it seems easy, but to make as much money when you are young and not be affected…
T.N. It is very simple. Any parent or tutor knows that your child will need to be guided until they are 22 or 24 years. Does that change the fact that the child earns money? Not really. They need even more firm guidance, because they get involved in situations with high potential destabilizing. Then he allows himself to be guided or not. I have always tried to make Rafael understand that what he does is just a game. He plays good, yes, nothing more.
XL. You follow the same method with your children, I guess …
T.N. Yes, of course. Look, yesterday I told my seven year old son that he had played very well and he replied: “But if you always tell me that I do it really bad.” And I: “Yes, well, it is for you to know that you can improve” Well, he told me “I’d rather you tell me what I do wrong, this way I will try harder” [laughs].
XL. So, also you give a compliment once in a while …
T.N. Just enough. A bad player is the one who needs to be flattered all the time! The rewards are the trophies, the life they lead … Sometimes you have to relax the pressure, but if I have to choose between being hard or soft, I prefer being too hard. Sport is effort and demand. Otherwise, why run 42 Kilometers in a marathon, or 200 on a bike? Better you go by car, right? Behind all of this there is a personal reward. And this is hard.
XL. And talent, what role does it play in all of this?
T.N. Man, You have it or you don’t. But what makes the difference is hard work. Look Rijkaard’s Barcelona (the football team). They were all good players, were champions of Europe but he dropped the demands and failure came. Take note that athletes are young and, if you do not make demands on them, then they get distracted. In the case of Rafael he has had to tighten in order to be able to respond to each situation, explore his limits, instil that when the ball comes, he always runs to get it. If you can hit it 100 per hour and you hit 80, if instead of picking it up early, you hold back, if you stand still instead of reaching, this is how all your game declines.
XL. Where did your love for tennis come from?
T.N. Our whole family loves sports, especially football. As a child, I won local competitions in swimming, I was champion of the Balearic Islands of ping-pong, chess … we were good in everything. To play tennis I started at 14. Always, yes, combining it with my studies, as my father demanded of me.
XL. “Your father educated you as you do Rafa?
T.N. Well, my father is a music fan more than a sports fan. In my time, education was given with example. I knew I had to turn off the light because my parents did it. You learn more from what you see that what is told to you. If you buy a girl ten dolls, she give them less value than if she only has one. I can not conceive this class of “Education for Citizenship”, you have to go to class to learn how to greet when entering a place or respecting others. It’s enough that they force you to do it and they teach you by example. Discipline is essential in education. If you say something to your child and you do the contrary, we are not going anywhere.
XL. You were a boarder, right?
T.N. Yes, in Palma, between 12 and 13 years. I did not like it much, but … Then I studied History and Law. I did not finish.
XL. Did you give up in order to coach Rafa?
T.N. No, that was later. When he was ten years old, I told his father: “I will dedicate myself to Rafael.” Not because I thought of living from tennis, because I do not charge a cent for training my nephew, but because the family situation allowed it.
XL. You mean it was you or hire a coach?
T.N. That’s right. When he was 7 years old I told his father he would be champion of Spain. In the Manacor tennis school, that I directed, I had a kid who was second in Spain and I saw in Rafael a much greater potential. It was much better that I lead him instead of a stranger.
XL. “There was never discussion about it?
T.N. Nothing, his parents, without worry. When things go well, there is never discussion.
XL. In the family, has anyone stopped working thanks to the profits of Rafa?
T.N. Nobody. His father works harder than before, since he deals with his affairs and those of his son. I share half a half business with his father, where, incidentally, I don’t go ever [laughs].
XL. You’ve spent more time with Rafa than his father, no?
T.N. When he was a kid, yes.
XL. At what age did you start to think that he would be professional?
T.N. I always thought it, it is what I wanted to think to motivate me. I set Rafael a long-term goal, to be a great professional. To try things and not achieve them often happens, but in life you must have dreams to make progress
XL. Did you let him play other sports?
T.N. Maybe it was stupid, but it bothered me that he did not focus. One day I went to school so that his Physical Education teacher would let him have some hours off from gym to advance in other subjects. He was already a champion of Spain, world junior … Then the woman told me: “It is not possible, it’s that here we do volleyball.” Anyway. Very smart, isn’t it?
XL. When you began training your nephew, did you already have a defined method in your head?
T.N. For me, there is a fundamental principle: control. Of the situation, of the ball, of everything I do. l always said to Rafael: “The shot is never going in front of the head.”
XL. “Did you think like that when you started with him in exclusive?
T.N. Before that, when I directed the tennis school, I saw a video of Jack Nicklaus [the best golfer in history] that changed my vision. Nicklaus said: “First hit far away, then we’ll think about putting it in the hole.” I said to myself, ‘Hey, this guy must be right. ” This is what I applied to Rafael: “First hit hard, then we make that bounce inside.”
XL. You mean that the progression of Rafa, somehow, is planned almost from he started?
T.N. Absolutely. The most important work was done between 8 and 17. Then it was letting go. Sport is a mental issue. To create in him the need, the will, all this intensity, was done basically in his youth.
T.N. Look, when he won the Spain juvenile championship, at 11 years of age, I called the Federation and, posing as a journalist – I did not want to be misunderstood – I asked for the list of last 25 winners of this category and I showed the list at a family dinner. I wanted to play down the success. I reviewed out loud the list of 25 and there were six who had become professionals. In other words: “This may be a beginning, but it does not guarantee anything.” We’ve always kept that idea. Look at Juan Carlos Ferrero, he won Roland Garros, reached No. 1, but … If things by some chance start to go wrong, you should keep the exigency, be self-critical at all times.
XL. Rafa, in fact has almost had an injury per year
T.N. If he had not been mentally trained since being a youth, he would not have been able to stay up so much time.
XL. Has there been a time when Rafael has told you “I can’t any more, I am demanding too much of myself”?
T.N. Sometimes, eeh… Look, we were in Rome this year, he came from having the treatment in his knee, he was training with pain (sighs). I don’t like hearing complaints. When he is hurting I don’t go near him. That day was Tuesday and he was debuting on Wednesday, he was in a lot of pain and it showed in his face. I told him “F*** Rafael, put on a better face, we’re not going anywhere like this” and he (said) “pffff! It hurts me so much that I can’t. I prefer to tell you because it is hard for me to bear it.” So I added “Look, you have two roads, say enough and we go, or suffer a bit and put on a good face. You choose”. On Sunday, after winning the tournament I said to him “This is the difference between hanging in there or giving in. Tuesday’s pains now have compensation, no? It is always up to you to look at it in a positive manner, put on a good face”
XL. Few tennis players have evolved so much in their career as Rafa. How has this affected his capacity for self criticism?
T.N. I never accepted excuses from Rafael to justify losses He would say “it is the stringing, it’s I don’t know what…” I never even let him know what stringing he was using because I tried, always, for him to take responsibility for his victories and his losses. It is always a cause and effect relationship: if you work well you can win, if not, failure is most probable. We tend to overvalue ourselves and if we fail we put the blame on others. When you are asked “Why did you lose?” the answer is very simple “Because the other (guy) is better”. Later you examine your defects, but that is the first thing.
XL. Is that the root of the evolution Rafa has with his serve?
T.N. I have always been very critical with my nephew, and would insist “With this serve you are not going to go anywhere” and he “I don’t serve so badly” and I “What! Serving what ranking are you in the world?” And he (would say) “50 or thereabout” and I “What are you saying! There are more than a hundred who serve better than you!” It is better to exaggerate criticism rather than make light of it. Anyway, this last change in his serve for the US Open was Rafael’s idea.
XL. Who coached you when you were professional
T.N. No-one. I had a teacher in Mallorca but it was for free
XL. Does being a coach require having been a player previously?
T.N. I cannot conceive of training without having played before. With experience in pressure situations, like Del Bosque, Cruyff or Guardiola, you can help your pupils more.
XL. You however, never lived situations like a match ball in a Grand Slam tournament…
T.N. True, but something helped him. It hasn’t gone too badly for us.
XL. You mentioned Del Bosque. Do you identify yourself with him?
T.N. A ten for Del Bosque, he has done a great job. In any case, I have never seen him coach, I don’t know his methodology and I don’t believe much in coaches in any sport. If you don’t have good players you can’t do anything. I like people who when they win, they always do it with humility. I don’t like winner’s outbursts. He who thinks he is better by winning something is stupid.
XL. When, before a tournament, you give a declaration about the state of fitness of your nephew, do you always tell the truth?
T.N. No… let’s see. At my age, I don’t usually tell lies, but look at it for our interests of course. Now then, to Rafael I always tell the truth, well, nearly always (laughs)
XL. The truth hurts, but strengthens you… could that be your principle?
(laughing) One day playing Davis Cup he was losing important points and I told him “Try winning more first points, because when you get to deuce you don’t respond well” he said to me “You don’t have to speak to me like that” and I (said) “Either I tell you or the opponent will when you get to deuce and lose”. Another time in Montecarlo, before playing against Federer he asked me “How do you see it?”. “I told him “Man, he has a better forehand, better serve, better volley…” and Rafael “Don’t continue… what illusion!” and I (said) “It’s the truth. You beat him in determination, put yourself to the limit of your conditions and let’s see”. If I tell him he is better than Federer, I am an idiot. He has 16 Grand Slams and Rafael 9. Why lie to ourselves?
XL. That Federer and Nadal are rivals to the death (on court) and friends is something that catches the world’s attention…
T.N. Rafael, from (being) a child was always clear about it: the rival is the rival on the court. Hatred between rivals doesn’t fit into my head… like those from Madrid who hate Barça and viceversa.
XL.Are you perhaps glad when Federer wins?
T.N. No, of course, it affects us in the ranking, but I don’t wish him anything bad. In football that goes to the extreme. Colleagues who cheat each other, feigning fouls and penalties, injuring a colleague… careers have been ruined that way.
XL. Do you believe that Nadal makes Federer better, and viceversa?
T.N. No. Without Federer, Rafa would have been No 1 for 3 years.
XL. But tennis would have been more boring during those years…
T.N. You would have been more bored, but not us!!! (laughing) It would have been great not having Federer in front of us. I am sure that he thinks the same. He would be even greater than he is.
XL. And one last question. In spite of Rafa’s successes, the Nadal clan has managed to keep a very low profile. Have you never been pestered by someone with a microphone in their hand?
T.N. Rafael, sometimes. He is one to put the brakes on these things. Photos have been taken without permission. Look, we are in a State where everything is legislated, how to carry children in the car, how to build a house, whether we can drink in the street, everything is regulated, however, the freedom of the press, no. If the paparazzi bothered Zapatero and the officials the way they do other famous people how quickly they would change the law! They caused the death of Diana the Princess of Wales, and nothing happened, they were not even ashamed. I am in favour of getting rid of the gossip shows from the television.There should be restrictions on the freedom of press.