Toni Nadal on Being Tough on Rafa; Believes Jerzy Janowicz Can Be Future No. 1

Toni and his nephew Rafael Nadal

April 7, 2013Toni Nadal, the uncle and long time coach of Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal, was the distinguished guest speaker at a tennis coaches’ conference today. The Babolat-sponsored  event was held in the city of Katowice as part of the BNP Paribas Katowice Open stop of the WTA Tour.

“Uncle Toni” — as he’s adoringly known to the tennis world — addressed subjects from junior tennis, to being a tough coach on his nephew Rafa, and even gave his thoughts on Polish tennis player Jerzy Janowicz‘s ascension.

Toni began by addressing the age he believes kids should begin playing tennis, despite his own nephew starting at a younger age.

“The optimal age to start tennis training is 5 or 6 years old. That way the kid has a lot of options and time to learn the game,” he stressed. “I started to work with Rafael when he was three years old. However, you don’t need to necessarily start that early. Rafael was always willing to train, I never had to force him. He’s just passionate about sports. With that same desire, he liked to practice soccer and now – when he can – also golf.”

Tennis fans are familiar with Uncle Toni’s tough coaching ways with his nephew, but just how hard was he on Rafa and did it ever interfere with home life?

“I was tough on him, but not excessively so,” stated Toni. “It didn’t matter that I was his uncle. Actually, it’s even better that way as I could afford doing certain things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do if I wasn’t (family) … There were also difficult times for both of us. But our close kinship (as player and coach) never did and still hasn’t interfered with our personal relationship. We have a great relationship in the family.”

The first of Rafael’s 53 titles coincidentally came in the city of Sopot, Poland in 2004, and it was a revelation for the family.

“I remember it perfectly, because Rafael was fighting for a long time with injury before this tournament,” stated Toni. “His victory was unbelievable.”

According to Uncle Toni, Rafael started playing professional tournaments at the tender age of 16 and because he “had to compete against players that were much stronger, he did  a lot of running around the court.” It wasn’t until he was 19-20 years old that Rafa really “began to make his own decisions,” said Toni. But despite this increased independence, Toni still dictates numerous parts of his nephew’s game: “Now I demand that (Rafa) be much more aggressive than he used to be.”

But don’t be fooled. “(Rafa) is well aware of what he has to do to stay at the top,” concluded Uncle Toni.

He then shifted gears and commented on breakout Polish player who currently ranked 24th in the world, Jerzy Janowicz. Last October in Paris, the 22-year-old shocked the competition as he reached his first Masters final while ranked 69th in the world.

“There have been no changes at the top of (men’s) tennis the last few years. The same players play in the finals of all the big events. But I saw (Jerzy) Janowicz during the tournament in Paris. He’s a young and talented player. I believe that he is among the group of players who in the future, may become the world number one.”

(Translation from Polish provided by @Rob_pal)

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