Refusing to follow in the footsteps of his contemporaries, who hire and fire professional coaches, World No 1 says he prefers continuity when it comes to his coaching staff
World No 1 Rafael Nadal approves of the latest trend of top players using legends as coaches, but says he won’t seek such high profile help himself.
While Nadal’s rivals have employed Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl, and Michael Chang — Grand Slam winners all — tennis’ leading player prefers to work with his uncle Toni.
That’s not only because family is special for the islander from Majorca, but also because of Nadal’s self-description as a “long-term boy”. Continuity is more important for him than a celebrity whose experience may nevertheless help other players gain an extra edge at the top.
“My idea of life and teamwork is to have continuation on all the work for so many years. I never fired anyone in my team since I started my career,” said Nadal, who showed his trademark grit and determination on Thursday night as he reached the semi-finals of the Qatar Open here with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over Ernests Gulbis.
“I changed physio (Joan Forcades) but he left because he has kids and he prefers to be at home, not because I fired him,” Nadal emphasised.
Lendl works with Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, Becker has recently been taken on by seven-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, Edberg has joined up with Grand Slam record-breaker Roger Federer, and Chang has linked with the top 20 Japanese player Kei Nishikori.
However it seems unlikely that these legendary ex-players can contribute a great deal technically to the modern greats, because the game has changed so dramatically since their day. Their greatest contribution may be in the mentality, the ambience, and the attitude which they encourage — a feeling of being a winner.
Nadal, who has 13 Grand Slam titles and time to overtake Federer’s record 17, already knows how to create those feelings, possibly having learned from a professional football culture amongst members of his family and friends.
Toni Nadal probably performs other functions, among which may be overseeing detailed training sessions and ensuring chronicled performance records remain close secrets. Because Nadal is a tennis athlete with few equals this is vital.
However it works, it is certain that theirs is the longest lasting coaching partnership in the elite game. But Nadal likes what others are doing. “In the end tennis is a simple sport. You don’t need to study a lot to teach tennis, in my opinion. But it’s better if you have big stars, past stars involved like Lendl, like Becker, like Edberg. It’s great news for our sport that they will be around the tour more often.”