Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer is the greatest modern-day tennis rivalry and may well be the greatest tennis rivalry in its illustrious history. The two have defined a generation and are still going strong. This rivalry might never have come to fruition and Rafa's uncle and long-time coach Toni Nadal reveals what started this defining journey of two men who will forever be entwined in the annals of history.
In a recent interview, uncle Toni revealed a funny incident from the yore that happened prior to a Monte Carlo Masters final. "I remember many years ago before playing against a Swiss (Federer), we were supposed to be retired already since a long time (due to a foot injury in 2005, and he asked me, 'How do you see the match)?' And I replied, 'Difficult. He has a better forehand than you, a better backhand, volley, serve" Rafael told me, 'This is what you tell me before a match?' And I said, "If you want I can lie, but in a short time Federer will not lie."
This was a conversation that happened presumably before the 2006 final where Nadal played his long-time friend and great rival Federer. Back then, Nadal was not the established powerhouse he is now and was only making his way up the tennis landscape. Despite winning the previous Monte Carlo Masters, Federer walked into the match as the favourite but Nadal beat the Swiss claiming his second of the eleven eventual titles he would win at Monte Carlo.
Talking about the strategy behind the victory, Toni revealed, "Play every point like if it was a match point, like if life depended on it, like if you think you can win it in the end" In the end, he won. We have to say that it was a clay-court." Nadal was not yet the 'King of Clay' but he would soon be conferred that virtual honour and he is now not only an 11-time Monte Carlo Masters champion but an 11-time French Open champion.
Toni also revealed an incident from Nadal's current coach Carlos Moya's house. "Years ago being in Carlos Moya's house, he asked me, 'Would you sign for Rafael to be an Albert Costa?' Albert Costa was coming from winning a French Open and being world No. 7. I said, "No no, I do not sign for it."
"He was surprised with my answer and he asked me again, 'Would you sign for Rafael to be a Carlos Moya?' He had won a French Open, reached Australian Open final, was a world No. 1. I was in Carlos Moya's house and I told him, 'Man, I may sign for it, clearly'," Toni went on to narrate. "But when we – Rafael and I - were about to leave, I said, 'I do not sign for it at all'. I always wanted to get higher."
17 grand slams later, Rafa Nadal certainly lived up to his uncle's billing.