Since Rafael Nadal was three years old, his uncle Toni Nadal has been his coach and mentor guiding him to historic success.
So when the Mallorcan stood on Court Philippe Chatrier to celebrate an unprecedented 10th Roland Garros title, it only made sense the French Open organisers would arrange for Toni to be with him there to share that special moment.
Not only is it a milestone triumph for Nadal, it’s also his final year working with Toni, who will end his 28-year partnership with his nephew at the end of this season in order to focus on the Rafa Nadal Academy and finally take a break from traveling the tour.
Toni stepped on Centre Court carrying the Coupe des Mousquetaires and presented it to Nadal in what was an incredibly emotional moment for both of them. The French Open organisers then played a video of all Nadal’s standout moments in the tournament that has defined his career so far.
“People said that Rafael would never win anything, that he was finicky – that I understand – but he has again demonstrated that with effort and dedication you can get things back,” Toni told reporters after the trophy ceremony while fighting back tears.
Nadal himself had doubts about how far he could go.
“In 2005, I thought in 2017 I’d be fishing on my boat in Mallorca. I didn’t really think I’d have such a long career and win so many tournaments,” said the 15-time Grand Slam champion.
“So this video was very special. It showed great moments of my career. And back then, of course, I couldn’t even think a second that this would ever happen to me.”
Throughout Nadal’s life, tennis and family have been intertwined with his uncle Toni playing such a crucial role in his career. Sunday looked and felt no different as the entire Nadal clan watched from the stands as he made more history on the court.
His other uncle, former FC Barcelona football star Miguel Angel, was in attendance and explained why it was such an emotional moment for his brother.
“For Toni, it’s a special day. Without a doubt, Toni has marked Rafael’s career. It’s a complicated day knowing that he has said that he will stop next year,” said ‘The Beast’.
“I believe it’s a difficult day because we cannot imagine that in a year, Rafael will be without Toni.”
Nadal’s comprehensive win over Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final on Sunday was the culmination of a dominant clay season for the Spaniard, who is now back at No2 in the world and has extended his lead at the top of the Race to London.
The 31-year-old has pulled off one comeback from injury after the other – the latest being a wrist problem that forced him to withdraw after his second round at Roland Garros last year, and one which ended his season prematurely last fall.
How does he keep coming back each time?
“Because he has the mentality and he has the motivation to be here,” Toni said simply.
Nadal dropped just 35 games over his seven matches in Paris. He didn’t drop a set and was never tested – if anything, he was more devastating as the tournament progressed, despite his opponents getting tougher in the latter rounds.
Wawrinka described Nadal’s tennis on Sunday as the best he’s ever played on clay but neither the Spaniard, nor Toni, can say that definitively.
“Winning 81 consecutive matches now (like he did in 2006-2007? I don’t know. I think technically he’s now better than before, his backhand has improved a lot over the past few years. His serve, especially his second serve has improved a lot. I think he’s playing at a very good level right now,” explained Toni.
Wawrinka had beaten Nadal on clay once before, but that was in Rome 2015, when the Mallorcan was far from his best.
He was out of solutions against Nadal in the final on Sunday.
“When you play against him, he’s amazing fighter. On clay he’s just tough to play. There is always one ball coming back. There is always spin on the ball. There is always a different bounce that’s what the other player make on that surface. He create a doubt that you cannot have if you want to beat him. And on clay especially, because the way he’s moving, it’s even more difficult,” said the Swiss world No3.
Nadal will have to switch his focus quickly to the grass season as he hopes to recapture his previous form on the surface that saw him reach five Wimbledon finals and win two of them in the past.
“It has been a while since I’ve played well at Wimbledon. It’s true that after 2012 what happened with my knees have been tougher and tougher to compete on grass for me. That’s the reality, no? Let’s see if I’m playing well since the beginning of the season,” said Nadal when asked if he believes he can do well at the All England Club in three weeks’ time.
“I love grass, everybody knows, and it’s a surface that I really enjoyed a lot playing there. And I miss play with Wimbledon again. So I hope that my knees hold well and I can have the preparation that I really need and the preparation that I wanted.
“So if that happens, why not? If I have pain on the knees, then I know from experience that it’s almost impossible. Because I need to feel strong, low, and powerful legs to play well in Wimbledon. If I don’t feel that, then probably my chances are not there, no?
“But if I am healthy and I am able to have the right preparation and feel healthy during the Wimbledon, then probably gonna have my chances to play well.”