Nadal must learn to survive without his uncle

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Toni Nadal dropped a bombshell last week when he told an Italian publication that this will be the last season he travels with his nephew Rafael Nadal to tournaments on tour.

What made it an even bigger shock is that the Rafa camp – namely the world No6’s media manager Benito Perez-Barbadillo – said that the news had taken them by surprise.

Toni explained two reasons behind his decision: The first is that he wishes to return to his roots and focus on moulding the future generation of tennis talent via the Rafael Nadal Academy; and the second is that he felt that his decision-making scope has diminished over the years with more and more people getting involved in Rafa’s career.

That is a very surprising revelation considering Toni has always seemed at the forefront of Team Rafa and has been the key figure in his nephew’s life since he was a child. Rafa said that it is Toni who called up Carlos Moya end of last year to see if he would like to join the team as a third coach, alongside himself and Francis Roig.

Was this Toni’s way of phasing himself out of Rafa’s travelling circus? Rafa had repeatedly said in the past that he would never choose to part ways with his uncle, but that he expects Toni to leave him someday because his children are getting older and he would want to coach them himself and spend more time with them.

Irrespective of the core reason behind Toni’s decision to step aside next season, the fact remains that such a change will have a massive impact on Rafa, who has spent his entire career being shaped by his uncle.

Travelling to the major tournaments with Moya and Roig is not the same as having Toni in his corner. And for someone who is as meticulous and controlled as Rafa – let’s not forget his bottle-placing obsessions on court and his pre-serve habits – this will require quite a fair bit of adjustment.

Roig has been working with Rafa for years but Moya, who is an old and close friend but a new addition to the team, has only one year of experience under his belt as a coach, having been part of Milos Raonic’s crew last year alongside Riccardo Piatti.

While Raonic enjoyed his best season to date in 2016, it’s unclear how much of that success can be attributed directly to Moya, and not Piatti. Still, you get the sense that perhaps a drastic change for Rafa is just what he needs to try and recapture his grand slam-winning form.

We’ve seen how having a fresh voice has done wonders for the likes of Novak Djokovic with Boris Becker, and Roger Federer with Stefan Edberg. Federer’s partnership with Ivan Ljubicic, alongside Severin Luthi, also appears to be a killer winning formula considering the Swiss has just won the Australian Open with the pair in his corner.

The good thing about Moya is that he gets along great with Rafa, who grew up admiring his fellow Mallorcan. The Rafa clan are a tight-knit bunch and Moya feels like the one person who can be welcomed by the group with open arms, due to his close ties to the 14-time grand slam champion and their common background.

The key thing moving forward would be for Rafa to trust Moya and Roig in the absence of Toni. The 30-year-old can still improve technical aspects of his game and the only way to do that would be to have complete faith in all members of his team.

Toni’s comments hinted at a certain level of discontent from the 55-year-old and the next few months will reveal whether that will have ripple effects within the group or not. It’s important for any athlete not to view their careers as dependent on one person and even though Toni has been the architect of Rafa’s career, the Spaniard must learn to believe he can survive without his uncle.

While Toni is still likely to be involved from afar, the day-to-day for Rafa will significantly change and the sooner he embraces that, the sooner he can reap the rewards. It may seem like the end of an era but it’s definitely not the end for Rafa.

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Roger Federer's victory at this year's Australian Open has been rated as one of the greatest triumphs of the Swiss maestro's career, if not the greatest.

Coming off a six-month injury layoff at the age of 35 to win a Grand Slam isn't easy, and beating long-term rival Rafa Nadal in a thrilling decider was just the icing on the cake.

The tennis world was in awe of Federer's performances in Melbourne, and the praise from players past and present has been pouring in since he lifted the trophy.


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Five unforgettable Men's Singles finals

Sport360 staff 30/01/2017

A quintet of the most iconic and exciting grand slam deciders in men’s history...

Which match was your favourite?

Share with us your thoughts by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

US OPEN 1976 Jimmy Connors beats Bjorn Borg 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (11-9), 6-4 As in boxing, styles make great finals and in Flushing Meadows you had Connors’ scrappy, powerful, double-handed baseline shots against the elegant technique of Borg. It made for a pulsating affair. The pair traded sets before the crucial third-set tiebreaker in which Connors fought off four set points to triumph and then take the fourth to win 3-1. WIMBLEDON 1980 Bjorn Borg beats John McEnroe 1–6, 7–5, 6–3, 6–7 (16–18), 8–6 Dubbed the ‘War of 18-16’ – due to the epic fourth-set tiebreaker – the 21-year-old McEnroe was the devil of Centre Court because of his antics in the earlier rounds. Borg, of course, the handsome, stylish angel of tennis. The match was a cracker, lasting nearly four hours, with Borg recovering from a terrible start, McEnroe defending five match points in the fourth set breaker before the Swede triumphed in an extended fifth set. FRENCH OPEN 1984 Ivan Lendl beats John McEnroe 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 McEnroe was peerless in 1984 – winning 13 titles and finishing with a record of 82-3 – however, one of those defeats was at Roland Garros, the only occasion he reached the final. Lendl was in his first grand slam final and a heavy underdog. It looked like going to form as the American took the first two sets, almost effortlessly, only to then suffer a spectacular collapse as the Czech’s brutal ground strokes buried him. WIMBLEDON 2008 Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer 6–4, 6–4, 6–7(5–7), 6–7(8–10), 9–7 Widely considered the greatest-ever final, this was two icons of the game at their peak playing a standard perhaps conceived in coaching manuals. Federer had beaten Nadal in the 2006 and 2007 final but this was the Spaniard’s time as the Swiss’ grip on men’s tennis started to slip. Fededer’s finesse versus the Spanish bull, a rain delay, two dramatic tiebreakers and an epic final act. This was the match which had it all. AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2012 Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 At five hours 53 minutes, this wasn’t just a tennis match, it was Iron Man feats of endurance and chess Grand Master-style levels of concentration. Their US Open final in September had gone to four hours and 10 minutes but this was another level. Nadal slammed down the serves but Djokovic’s consistency of return was unrelenting. Nadal miraculously rallied in the fourth set at 4-3 down and facing three break points but the Serb outlasted him in the fifth.

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