Uncle Toni To Split With Nadal
It’s been arguably the most successful men’s tennis coaching partnership in the history of the game. Together, Toni and Rafael Nadal have scooped up twenty eight Masters 1000 titles, Olympic Gold, year-end number one rankings, and fourteen Grand Slam titles. Federer may have more Slams, Djokovic may have more Masters 1000 titles, Murray may have more gold medals, but none of them have spent most of their career under the same coach. But that era is coming to an end as news reports yesterday told us; Uncle Toni to split with Nadal after nearly thirty years together.
Yes, you read that right; nearly thirty years. Uncle Toni has been coaching Rafa since he was able to hold a racket. Few coaches get to mold and shape a player throughout their whole career as Toni has done. And for Nadal to reach the tail end of this “Golden Era” as many people’s pick for the best of the bunch is a testament to what Uncle Toni achieved during that time.
Rafael Nadal (arguably for some but not for this tennis fan) established himself as the best clay court player in the game with title after title at Roland Garros, Monte Carlo, and Roma. He is second only to Novak Djokovic in Masters titles, and second only to Roger Federer in Grand Slam titles (tied with Pete Sampras). Rafa has also been party to no less than four Davis Cup titles, two Olympic gold medals (one for doubles), and three year-end number ones.
Rafa’s style of play has always been a punishing one, and injuries were as inevitable as growing old, both of which began to take their toll on the King of Clay. His last Slam—the 2014 French Open—has been followed by a largely disappointing string of defeats, not all of which can be blamed on injury. Nadal has always been the consummate baseliner. More so than Djokovic and Murray. And with changing court speeds and playing styles seemingly swinging back in favour of a more Federer-esque style of play, Nadal has struggled more than the other Big Four members to adjust.
This has lead to a number of voices in the game (such as John McEnroe) declaring that Nadal needs to make a change, and make one he did. I wrote about the addition of Carlos Moya to Nadal’s coaching team at the start of the year. This seemed like a smart move, but I’m not sure how many expected Uncle Toni to make his exit.
Uncle Toni to Split with Nadal
Perhaps Toni wanted to hang around long enough to make sure that Carlos Moya could do the business. Perhaps Toni is satisfied that Moya is up to the task after Nadal beat the odds to reach the Australian Open final last month. He insists things are fine between him and his nephew, but pointed out that over the past few years his control over the coaching set up has lessened.
Relations with my nephew are still excellent. During all these years, we have never been through a crisis … Until he was 17 years old, it was me who decided everything. Then Carlos Costa arrived as manager. Then his father became closer, each having his opinions … And the truth is that every year I had less decision-making, until the day when I will decide on nothing.
English is not Uncle Toni’s first language, so trying to read the subtext of what he’s saying would be foolish. The words certainly seem a little resentful, but that’s probably just the language barrier.
Uncle Toni says he will stay on the tour for the rest of this year before leaving Rafa to concentrate on their tennis academy.