Quiet farewell for Toni Nadal as Rafa wins in New York

11 September 2017 09:23

As Rafael Nadal pummelled Kevin Anderson into submission in the final of the US Open, a familiar figure watched quietly from the corner of his box.

Toni Nadal, white cap pulled down over his forehead and towel covering his knees, was where he always is, where he always has been for all 16 of his nephew's grand slam wins.

But, for the man who first put a racket in Nadal's hand at the age of three, this was a last hurrah.

Toni decided at the start of this season that from 2018 onwards he would stay at home in Majorca to spend more time with his own children and concentrate on running the family's academy.

Toni has been famously tough with his nephew, never basking, always focusing on how to be better.

He has also refused any attempts at reflected glory so it was no surprise that he sought to play down the personal significance of this moment.

"It was a big moment, not for me but for Rafael," said Toni. "It was a big moment because not every day Rafael can win the US Open.

"For me it's nothing special, no different than the other times when he won a grand slam tournament."

It has been a remarkably stable relationship. Nadal found out about his uncle's decision from the media - Toni had not realised it would be such big news when he revealed it at a coaching conference - but, if there was a rift, it was private and quickly healed.

Nadal at times has seemed irked by his uncle's tough approach but he also acknowledges how crucial that relentless drive has been to his success.

When the 31-year-old heads to Australia in January he will be accompanied by Toni's long-time assistant Francisco Roig and Carlos Moya, who takes over the lead role.

Former French Open champion Moya was Majorca's first world number one and a long-time friend of the family.

This season has seen all three coaches work together to help Nadal rediscover his best form and reach three slam finals, winning two of them.

Moya knows he has huge shoes to fill.

"Obviously he (Toni) is the person who knows Rafa better and he played a big role in Rafa's success," said the 41-year-old.

"It's going to be impossible to achieve what he achieved in the past but I'll try to keep working hard, try to help Rafa be a better player, to evolve, and try to enjoy the ride and play well."

Nadal's victory over Stan Wawrinka in the final of the French Open in June ended a three-year wait for his 15th grand slam title, overcoming injuries and a loss of confidence in his body and his game.

Moya said: "We tried to get Rafa to be more aggressive, not spend so much time on defence. I think he improved the second serve and he plays more relaxed on the first serve. (His) forehand is okay again.

"Sometimes this year he's been playing amazing tennis. He has not been injured, which for me is key. You see all the other players, how tough it is for them to be healthy.

"If he is healthy we know sooner or later he is going to play well, and if he plays well, he is going to have good results."

One thing Nadal did not manage to achieve in 2017 was a victory over his great rival Roger Federer.

Federer won a classic Australian Open final and clashes in Indian Wells and Miami, and they were denied a fourth meeting by the Swiss star's loss to Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals in New York.

For the first time in six and a half years, Nadal and Federer are ranked one and two, and Moya hopes they will soon meet again.

He said: "We look forward to that. Rafa is prepared and for me as a tennis fan it's one of the best matches you can see, so I would love (him) to play Roger.

"They make each other better. For Rafa, having that challenge, it's something that for sure makes you evolve, and we try to look at some of the things that Federer is doing, because what he he has done this year at 36 is unbelievable."

Source: PA