Throughout the world of sport, the name ‘Nadal’ is well known. You don’t need to be a tennis fan to know it has earnt its place in the pantheon of greats, regardless of what happens from this point henceforth.
But, has the ‘other’ Nadal earnt his dues? You hear about football sorts Guardiola and Mourinho all the time when talking about great coaches, and yet across sport and the generations, few can have achieved what Rafael’s Uncle Toni has.
Rafael’s withdrawal from the ATP Finals at the O2 in London this week didn’t really come as a surprise, but perhaps the timing is perfect to address just what his uncle has also achieved.
It wasn’t for nothing that Roland Garros got Toni down on the court to receive a replica of the Coupe des Mousquetaires (as he was also winning it for the tenth time), and boy did he deserve his moment in the spotlight, despite it seemingly making him uncomfortable. So, while Federer, Seles, Sampras, Navratilova, Agassi and many more have seen varying numbers of coaches across their careers (some small galleries of faces), Uncle Toni has been present closely watching over his nephew’s career since Rafael was the age of four.
In an age in which people are constantly jumping ship and moving on to fresh pastures, new work, Toni stayed and accepted the challenges that came his and Rafa’s way. That’s twenty-seven years together, sixteen Grand Slam victories, thirty Masters’ titles and other smaller ones too (not just on the clay).
And while it isn’t completely at an end, or so it is said, Toni Nadal’s year-round, on-the-road coaching position is over. How many other coaches have stayed around long enough to witness their charge achieve the level of success Rafael has? How many can achieve such things? So, while the way this year has ended for the Nadals may be slightly disappointing – injury meaning Rafa goes out with a whimper rather than a bang (advised by Toni to not even play his first match two days ago) – what Team Nadal has done in the absence of Murray, Djokovic et al.
is truly magnificent. Uncle Toni, a silent force, shunning the spotlight and media that one can clearly enjoy given such a position, chose to get his head down and keep on finding new ways to improve every aspect of Rafael’s game.
With an equally restless thirst for victory, Toni and Rafael have made the ultimate partnership. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Let Federer’s achievements not dwarf those of the two Nadal men. In any other era, people would be talking endlessly about what the Spaniards have achieved.
Sixteen Grand Slams didn’t seem fathomable when Sampras hung up his racket, and Rafael has won both the slams that have taken him past Sampras’ total this year at the age of thirty-one (at that age Sampras played his last professional match).
Uncle Toni must take great credit for this reinvention and return to form and the top of the game of his nephew. Let us also remember that 2015 and 2016 were not easy years for camp Nadal, fighting through injuries, confidence problems and a falling ranking.
Now, Toni leaves Rafa with the year-end number one (the record of being the oldest man to hold that title), two Grand Slam titles and a series of other titles that capped a fantastic year. And so, Toni Nadal, one of the greatest coaches ever, retires from being Rafael’s permanent coach to remain in Mallorca and run the Rafa Nadal Academy that was opened last year.
With any luck, he will still attend the majors and be the undeniably positive force he has been for so many years. But, if ever a man deserved some acknowledgment of his achievements, if ever an unsung hero should be steered into the spotlight for a moment again if ever people should talk about the greatest coaches, of any sportsperson, of all time, then Uncle Toni should surely be mentioned.
Take a bow, Mr. Nadal, for your achievements are unlikely to be matched anytime soon. Everybody is always talking about GOATs these days - I think they might just be overlooking not one but two Nadals. ALSO READ: Toni Nadal: 'Rafa plays better now, but Federer and Djokovic do it too' .