Toni Nadal, uncle and former coach of Rafael Nadal.
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Number two in the world Rafael Nadal has already won almost everything there is to win in tennis in his career. 92 major titles, including two Olympic gold medals and 22 Grand Slams, including an astonishing fourteen Roland Garros titles. But winning the ATP Finals, the unofficial World Championship tennis, has never been possible. “It is completely different from the Grand Slams,” says his uncle and ex-coach Toni Nadal.

According to Toni Nadal, the uncle and long-time coach of Rafa, the format is the biggest cause. The ATP Finals start with a group stage of four players per pool, which is unique in tennis. “It’s very difficult for him,” Toni Nadal said Tennis Infinity. “The Grand Slams offer a player the chance to play himself into shape by playing against some easy opponents in the first round, which does not happen at ATP Finals.” The fact that the Grand Slams are played to three winning sets also plays to Nadal’s advantage.

Toni Nadal, uncle and former coach of Rafael Nadal. ©AFP

“When you arrive at a Grand Slam, you don’t have that. Then he had a few games. If he can pass the first week, he can win the tournament in the second week. But it’s not the same here, because in the first game you’re playing against one of the best players in the world, and then it’s too difficult,” added Toni Nadal.

Toni Nadal currently coaches top Canadian talent Felix Auger-Aliassime. This resulted in an uncomfortable situation for the Spaniard in Turin, where the ATP Finals took place this season. Because his Canadian pupil played against, yes, Rafael Nadal in the group stage. Auger-Aliassime won in straight sets. The overall victory went to Serbian Novak Djokovic for a sixth time.

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The Spaniard does not have to go that far back in his memory to cite an example of a prestigious tournament that his relative won without any preparation: “For example, when he arrived in Australia, he did not play very well in the first game, even in the second not, in the third the same. But after that it got better and better.” Totally unexpected, Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open by beating Daniil Medvedev in the final after an unparalleled comeback.

Lightning fast hard court

Injuries also often played a role for the injury-prone Nadal, who was never fully fit and in top condition to start the tournament at the absolute end of the season. This year, 36-year-old Nadal lost two of his three group matches at the ATP Finals in Turin. Nadal came back from injury, and entered the tournament with minimal preparation. And it showed. It wasn’t until his third game that he got his ‘timing’ right on the lightning-fast hard court surface and Nadal seemed to be his old self again.

That very fast surface is something that does not immediately make ‘Gravel king’ Nadal happy. On hard court he won 78 percent of his matches over his entire career (515 wins, 146 defeats), on ‘his’ clay court that is a lot better with a fabulous 91 percent (474 ​​wins and barely 45 losses). The fact that the matches at the ATP Finals are also played indoors makes it very difficult for the Spaniard, because it makes the fast highland track in Turin even faster. In his life, Nadal even won ‘barely’ 68 percent of his indoor competitions.

Nadal won Roland Garros for the 14th time this year on the Parisian clay court, a record. © ISOPIX

Nadal was successful at the Grand Slams this season. In addition to the Australian Open, he also won Roland Garros for the fourteenth time. Nadal holds the record for the number of Grand Slams with 22. He is thus taking a shot at the title of ‘GOAT’, the best player ever. But whether Nadal will win the ‘unofficial world championship’ one of the following years remains a big question mark. Because the format, his injury sensitivity and the circumstances will not change quickly. The season finale will also take place in Turin in 2023.

Nadal’s 14 Roland Garros Triumphs. ©AFP

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