Speaking at the Australian Open on 27th January, Michael Chang, Goran Ivanisevic and Ivan Ljubicic discuss why so many successful former tennis players have moved into coaching over the last few years.
Toni Nadal insists Rafael Nadal’s straight sets defeat to Tomas Berdych is no tragedy and that the Spaniard will respond to it the only way he knows how – by working hard.
Nadal’s uncle and coach, Toni, admits the world No3 started the tournament lacking confidence but that it grew as he advanced through the rounds and that entering the clash with Berdych, Nadal was in “perfect form”.
But Toni has no real explanation for Nadal’s poor level against Berdych in the opening two sets.
“Before the match I thought we were in perfect form because in the last match Rafa played very well against Kevin Anderson,” said Toni.
“I thought he could play well against Berdych. At the beginning he didn’t play well enough, he had problems with his backhand… it was a bad match.
“He played bad and when he reacted, he reacted too late.”
Nadal hasn’t lost to Berdych in his last 17 meetings with the Czech but Toni doesn’t think the No7 seed has done anything differently to end that dismal streak.
“I don’t think that Berdych changed anything in his approach, I think he played his game and faced a Rafa who played bad in the first two sets. And when Rafa reacted the way we had hoped he would react, it became a tough match for both, the same as in previous years,” he explained.
“Being down two sets was too big of a gap. We lost the match in the first two sets.
“The truth is that Rafael served bad, he felt a bit nervous and had some double faults. And Berdych came out with the idea not to rally much and to attack more.”
Nadal is expected to start training again next Monday in preparation for the clay tournaments in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires (starting February 16 and 23).
While this was one of the heaviest defeats Nadal has suffered in his grand slam career – only two other players have bageled him at a major, Roger Federer in Wimbledon 2006 and Andy Roddick in US Open 2004 – Toni is not worried about how his nephew will rebound from this.
“The same way we always react to a loss. By working. It’s not a big problem,” said Toni.
“We’ve lost many times in quarter-finals here, and not one time have we lost here and we’ve lost in Roland Garros.
“It’s never a big problem in sport, things change quickly. Sometimes you are on the top and sometimes at the bottom.
“I never see it as a tragedy when we lose. For example, a few weeks ago, Madrid seemed invincible and Barcelona were a disaster and now tell me… Who is playing better? Barcelona.
“The same happened with Federer in Shanghai. He faced four match points against Leonardo Mayer and then he beat Novak Djokovic playing at a great level and he won the tournament.”
Ivan Ljubicic and Michael Chang are doing their best to unload any stress from their players, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, as they prepare to face some daunting opposition in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
Ljubicic, a retired ex-world No3 who has been coaching Raonic for the past 18 months, is preparing the Canadian for a mammoth encounter with four-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.
Raonic, who is playing a third quarter-final in his last four grand slams, has taken just one set out of the 11 he has played against Djokovic in four meetings.
The Canadian No8 seed managed just five games in his only previous hard court clash with Djokovic, in Paris last October, and is aware of the world No1’s threat at Melbourne Park – a place where he has enjoyed his most success.
But Ljubicic believes the pressure will be on Djokovic not Raonic in today’s encounter.
“He’s definitely approaching it like there’s no pressure. It’s something that he can freely go for it, and try to win,” Ljubicic told Sport360 on Tuesday.
“Novak will not give it to him, we know that. So he has to just swing freely, go for his shots, play his game. Not over-hit, not overplay, just play his normal game. He knows he was close in the past and that he will have a chance.”
Raonic’s closest match with Djokovic came on the clay of the Rome Masters last season, where the 24-year-old stretched Djokovic to three sets. But Ljubicic knows that “Novak is a different player in Australia”.
Still the 35-year-old Croat believes Raonic is in excellent shape and is primed for a great battle, thanks to a strong pre-season preparation.
“He’s feeling excellent,” Ljubicic says of Raonic, who looks fitter than before having lost a few pounds over the off season.
“Absolutely no issues. Normally when you get to the quarter-finals you have some kind of little pains, little issues but he’s totally 100 per cent ready.
“We worked on fitness really hard, he didn’t play IPTL also for that reason to get ready for this season really well. He lost a few kilos but again that wasn’t really the only goal of the off season, the goal was to get more fit by practicing harder, making sure what to eat and the result is that he lost a few pounds.”
Meanwhile, 1989 Roland Garros champion, Chang, believes fifth-seed Nishikori will have less pressure on him when he takes on defending champion Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday.
The pair had an epic five-set battle in the US Open quarter-finals last September, which Nishikori won en route to a runner-up showing.
“I really think that Kei doesn’t have anything to lose coming into tomorrow’s match,” said Chang. “Stan is obviously the higher seed and defending champion so there's certainly a lot more pressure on him. I think it’ll be a great match, a lot of long, tough rallies and hopefully Kei comes out and plays some great tennis.”