Toni Nadal: "Winning 10 times at Roland-Garros would be enormous"
Toni Nadal, Rafa’s uncle as well as being his coach since the early days, is currently in his last season on court alongside his nephew, and thus readying himself for what should be his last Roland-Garros in a few weeks… Unless, of course, there is a change in circumstances…
What did you think or feel last Sunday when Rafa won the Monte Carlo Masters for a tenth time – a record for any tournament?
I don’t know (smiles). Ten titles at Monte Carlo is incredible… but the ninth was incredible as well. And so were the eighth, the seventh and the sixth… Ten is even more so, that’s true. I’m just very happy that Rafael won.
When he achieved this first "decima" though, wasn’t a more emotional moment than the titles that came before?
No. I think it was more complicated winning in Monaco last year, as Rafael hadn’t played well in 2015. This year, he got off to a good start to the season, and the truth is, when we got to Monte Carlo, we did say to ourselves that he was one of the potential winners.
Why was that? Because after his excellent start to the year, making the final in Melbourne, Acapulco and Miami, you knew that once you go to the clay, he was bound to play well?
For me, he wasn’t exactly the favourite because there was also Djokovic and Murray, and they are No.1 and No.2 in the world. But yes, I did think that based on how he was playing, Rafael was one of a group of players who could win Monte Carlo.
Was it important for him to get back to winning tournaments? He hadn’t taken home any silverware since Barcelona last year…
(Interrupts) Last year, he was injured. In 2016, Rafael won Monte Carlo, beating Murray and Monfils, then Barcelona where he beat Nishikori. Then he made the semi-finals in Madrid, but even before the match started, his wrist was injured (he began feeling it during his quarter-final against Joao Sousa). From that point onwards, everything changed. After that, his wrist never got back to full health all year, so it was different. It’s not like he played badly last year. No, what didn’t help was that he started playing again before he was fully healed. But he was still playing well.
Was the time after his very emotional announcement that he was pulling out of Roland-Garros last year a difficult one? After all the work that had been done to get back to such a high level…
(Shrugs his shoulders) Look, it was what he’s been doing all his life. I never wonder whether it’s difficult or not, you know, because you can’t alter things that happen in life. Sometimes, in moments like those, when Rafael began to say: "No, not with the injury…", I always answered back: "That’s just the way it is. Don’t ever start telling yourself that it’s difficult because if you tell yourself that it’s too difficult, we won’t end up doing it." (Pause). Difficult is the way things are.
Have the two of you talked about the possibility of "la decima" at Roland-Garros in a few weeks’ time as one of your aims?
No. The first time that Rafael made the final of a Masters 1000 was in Miami (in 2005 against Roger Federer), and everyone was saying: "Miami is the most important Masters 1000 tournament!" And I turned round and said: "I’d rather win Monte Carlo". Now, after 10 titles at that tournament, I don’t know what I would prefer… Because if we had won in Miami, maybe that would have been a special tournament for us (smiles). But for Spaniards like us, in our subconscious, when we think Masters 1000, we always think Monte Carlo, looking out over the sea and all that. For us, winning at Monaco is incredible. So you can understand that given what Roland-Garros represents to us Spaniards, winning 10 times in Paris would be… (he exhales, then spreads his arms out wide) enormous.
It would be extraordinary…
Yes. Because it would be the tenth. And also because every time Rafael wins Roland-Garros, we can then say already that he’s had a great season.
So basically winning in Monte Carlo then Barcelona gives you confidence for Roland-Garros…
I’ll tell you in a month’s time… (smiles) In tennis, and in sport in general, things can change very quickly. When you win, you build up a lot of confidence. But if for example in the first round in Monte Carlo against Kyle Edmund, Rafael had lost that point and gone 2-1 down in the third set, well… confidence would have been rock bottom! So yes, it’s true, we’re very confident at the moment. But maybe if Rafael loses in Madrid, we’ll be less confident. We’ll see! A lot of things can still happen by the time Roland-Garros comes around.
Two years ago, Rafa had a lot of doubts. Is that now all in the past?
Yes, I think so. But maybe that’s a question that you should ask him (smiles). I think it’s usual. For a number of years, Rafael had to play through physical issues. Sometimes he couldn’t even bend his legs. At times like those, you lose all confidence in your body. You go out on court, but you don’t know exactly what you’ve got, or even how you’re going to play, and so your head starts filling up with things. Afterwards, you think: "That’s just too hard…". But when he decided to stop last October, he got all the answers he needed. And after that, he could start playing again and he got back to a very good level straight away.
Is this season different for you in that you have announced that it will be your last one alongside Rafa?
(Without a moment’s hesitation) No. I’m not too clever, you know – I struggle to think very far ahead (smiles). When I leave Monte Carlo, I know that I won’t be there next year, but for me, that changes nothing. We won at Monte Carlo, I am happy and I’m not thinking about next year. It’s really not a problem (smiles).
But when you think about Roland-Garros coming up, you don’t say to yourself: "This will be my last"?
Yes, it will be my last Roland-Garros. So what? I’ve been lucky enough to experience things that I never thought I would. I can still see myself back at the club in Manacor where I was head of the tennis school. I never thought that I would go to Monte Carlo 14 times or Roland-Garros 13 times! No, I would never have imagined that. If you’d told me that we would be able to go to these places two, four, five or six times, I would have snatched your arm off. And at the end of the day, with Rafael, we went there a lot more often… So overall, we ended up winning a lot more than I ever dreamt we would. Yes. That’s turned out pretty well (smiles)."