Toni Nadal: Endurance

Mar 21, 2018
Robert Davis / Editor-in-Chief
Toni Nadal led Rafael Nadal from ground zero to the number one player in the world. Their incredible return to the top of the mountain in 2017 is a testament to Toni Nadal’s faith in both Rafa and himself.  As coach and player, Toni and Rafa appeared in 23 grand slam finals, winning 16. Their journey which is filled with highs and lows, great rivals and severe critics has been well documented. Through it all, Toni fought the good fight while keeping his head held high and ethos intact. ELITE Tennis Journal salutes Toni Nadal for a job well done!

Joder!” curses Toni Nadal. Interrupt Toni when he is in task mode and the oaths fly out of his mouth like hot sparks from a blacksmith’s anvil. It is important to understand that Toni does not curse casually, nor as a form of insult, rather of exasperation. In this particular case, it is the frustration of being delayed and quite possibly missing a flight from Palma de Mallorca to Madrid. We are at the entrance of the Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy in Manacor and the airport is nearly an hours’ drive away. I am but one of a handful of obstacles keeping Toni from getting to the airport on time. Standing aside, I watch Toni multi-task; answer phone calls, sign papers, button his dress shirt, tie his leather shoes, and wrestle my oversize travel bag into the back of his two-door Mercedes SLC Roadster. Eventually, the retractable hardtop would come down, my bag would go in and we are ready to go. I briefly considered suggesting a hands-free apparatus for his phone, but then I realized that Toni Nadal is anything but hands-free.

Pato believes it is his job to make sure his player has everything in order to play his best; racquets perfect, water, balls, and like this. And I say, ‘this is not my opinion.

Finally we are on our way. Toni looks at his watch and utters one last ‘joder’. But this curse is different, a bit softer, more of a slow drawn-out sigh of relief. Leaving the academy, Toni drives through a mix of newly paved roads, narrow cobblestone alleys, and a couple of roundabouts which he accelerates out of with the grace, speed, and confidence one would expect from Fernando Alonso. As if on cue, the phone finally stops ringing just as Toni hits the Ma-15 highway.

“One time I have a big discussion with Pato Clavet,” Toni begins. “Pato believes it is his job to make sure his player has everything in order to play his best; racquets perfect, water, balls, and like this. And I say, ‘this is not my opinion.’ If Rafa forgets his water, I say, ‘well it is your problem, today you don’t drink water.’ My work is not to bring water. Do you want to be a professional coach or a waiter?”

Our route to the airport takes us through the heart of Mallorca where windmills used to grind grain and pump water casts long shadows over fields which produce almond, fig and olive trees in great abundance. Restaurants, fortified with heavy brick barbeque grills and wood-fired ovens look like they were built to feed legions of Roman soldiers. Meals are peasant food soaked in olive oil and portions are big enough to last for days. While Barcelona may very well be the cradle of Spanish tennis; it is here on the island of Mallorca, part of Spain’s autonomous zone, that lies…
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