Tweak to forehand at early age gave Rafa Nadal a potent edge, explains Uncle Toni

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Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a forehand in his Men's Singles fourth round match against Joao Sousa of Portugal during Day Seven of The Championships - Wimbledon 2019 at All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 08, 2019 in London, England.

Image credit: Getty Images

ByPete Hall
22/05/2020 at 10:34 | Updated 22/05/2020 at 11:03

A tweak to his forehand at an early age gave Rafa Nadal a potent weapon that would stand him in good stead for future success, says uncle and former coach Toni.

Toni Nadal joined Mats Wilander for Eurosport's Players' Cut to discuss his nephew and the man he coached for 12 years between 2005 and 2017, to examine what makes the 19-time Grand Slam winner so special.

Uncle Toni noticed a change in Rafa's game as a 16-year-old, as soon at Rafa joined the ATP Tour, that helped him progress, and that variation in his lethal forehand has enabled his nephew to go on to achieve all he has.


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"I observed his attitude, physically and mentally from a very young age, his skills and his coordination," Toni said. "And then I figured that Rafael could play with a lot of intensity, because this is how he loves the sport.

"I always wanted that Rafael to be able to hit forehand winners, but he played with a lot of a spin, maybe too much sometimes. When we arrived on the ATP tour, Rafael was really young, he was 16 years old, and then he started to play with older players, with people who were stronger.

Then Rafael started to hit the ball a little late, he started to play high above the net with extreme spin. I didn’t like too much that he played this way, but at the end I saw that it was a good way to win. His forehand is hit high above the net, but when the ball bounces, it keeps its speed, it accelerates (contrary to other players). Rafael moves his wrist a little faster and then the ball bounces, the ball has so much pace.

"On clay, he has seen that with his extreme top-spin forehands were putting opponents in a difficult position because every time he could hit the ball two or three times over the backhand of his opponents pushing them to hit it back at shoulder height. Then it was easy for him to get a short ball and hit to the other side. Though, he knows that on hard court it is different."

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While Rafa's superiority on clay throughout his career was never been replicated on other surfaces, the fact he was able to win seven Slams on all surfaces, despite possessing such a naturally perfect game for clay, Wilander believes, is testament to his abilities.

"That is what I think is so impressive to us, older players or people who love tennis in general, is when you see Rafa play at Roland Garros on a clay court, it is one kind of player, tactically," Wilander said. "There is one kind of forehand and then you go and watch him play at Wimbledon or at the US Open, and I always felt that you were trying to: 'let’s forget Roland Garros, now we are back to hitting normal forehands, we follow through over the shoulder'.

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"So, the changes that Rafael had to make technically and also tactically, I think, is way more than other players."

The full Tennis Legends vodcast has much more from the panel about Nadal and his game, including some of the moments which made him a genuine tennis superstar.


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