Re: >> Rafa news and articles <<
MADRID — Rafael Nadal, who is set to fly to Chile on Thursday to return to the ATP tour seven months later than planned, is a different man: he has a new racquet, a new approach to his business interests and a lot of questions regarding his tennis.
Can the former world No1 go back to being the player he once was? As soon as Nadal confirmed his return to the tour after a long injury break, the International Tennis Federation proceeded to test him for doping four times in two weeks, according to sources close to the player.
Overall, Nadal was tested "six or seven" times ahead of his return, International Tennis Federation president Francesco Ricci Bitti told DPA.
However, since he recovered from a double knee injury and started to play again last November, the Spaniard has spent most of his time trying to adapt to the new tool of his trade: Babolat’s Aeropro Drive racquet.
Like most players, Nadal is conservative when it comes to his play; he does not like to change what appears to be working. But that is precisely what coaches are there for.
"Uncle Toni (Nadal) put pressure on Rafa to change. If you want to be better, you have to take risks," said Eric Babolat, owner of the company that makes the racquet Nadal has been playing with since the age of 12. He said Nadal usually tells his uncle and coach, "I don’t agree with what you’re saying, but I’ll give it a try."
According to Babolat, the new racquet and new strings give "more power and more control" to the Spaniard’s shots. "More top spin, he already has a lot of that, but he wants more," he said.
The racquet maker concedes it is "a nightmare for rivals", the height that Nadal’s strokes attain due to this top-spin effect.
By the end of the year, the racquet could be even closer to science fiction, because the plan is to put on it a chip that will collect data about every stroke.
"It could become a habit, something usual after sport: sitting with your friends to compare each one’s technical data," Babolat said.
While Nadal adapts to his racquet ahead of the Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo and Acapulco tournaments he is set to play next month, his business activities are taking on a new dimension.
Carlos Costa, a former top 10 tennis player who has been Nadal’s manager for years, left the agency IMG, the world’s biggest in the field, to create a family company with Sebastian Nadal, Rafael’s father.
The move is just like the one that Swiss tennis star Roger Federer and his manager, Tony Godsick, made a few months earlier.
Godsick left IMG and now he and Federer manage all the business generated by the former world No1. There are no longer any commissions to pay or anything to debate: they have control of everything.
The same thing is to happen with Nadal from now on.
Once he has chosen his racquet and set his business interests on a new track, questions focus on the winner of a record seven titles at the French Open: at 26, will he be able to replicate the form and results of his best years? Several top commentators have doubts.
"I don’t think he necessarily needs time to be Nadal, but I think he needs some time for the other players to think of him as the old Nadal, because I think players lose a lot of respect: not respect for him as a person, but respect for his level," Mats Wilander said.
The Swede, a three-time French Open winner and former world No1, is sure that even if his name is Rafael Nadal, "he’s still an outsider" in Paris this year, with Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Federer the men to beat.
"This is the year of Novak and Andy’s chance to win the French, and Roger’s already won it, but it’s obviously his chance too."
Tennis legend Andre Agassi, another former world No1, agrees. He thinks Nadal cannot be expected to return to top form before 2014.
More top spin will go down very well with GM's 'moonballing brigade.'
I always thought it impossible to dislike anything Swedish but Wilander proves me wrong. The man cannot open his mouth without mentioning Fed. Three time defending champion is an outsider, okay Mats - I wouldn't pay him in litter.