Nadal’s New Spin

Photograph for TIME by Lea Crespi

Nadal wants to project a more mature image and develop interests beyond tennis. "It's only a game," he says. "It's not work. It's hobby work."

Interesting article about Rafa in the new Time magazine. Here are some excerpts:

Passing up funding from Spain’s national tennis academy, and scholarship money from America’s private academies, Rafael and Toni would travel to the mainland only when a tournament required it. More skillful opponents were viewed as problems to overcome, not exemplars to be mimicked. Nadal — who first picked up a racquet aged 3 — and his coach found their own solutions, developing a style of play concerned less with form and technique than with results. What matters is winning. Or as Nadal puts it, “I’ve always liked the competition more than the tennis.”

Having proved that Nadal’s unique style can beat any player in the world, Toni has been quietly picking apart Nadal’s game, remaking it shot by shot so that the Spaniard plays not less classically but more classically. As Nadal prepares for this year’s first grand slam event, in Australia beginning Jan. 19, the top seed and his coach seem to be posing a new challenge: Can tennis’s great outsider win by embracing normal?

“People see Nadal as some sort of rebel, but he’s really just a normal guy, a normal Spaniard. He likes normal things and he lives a normal life,” says his publicist Benito Perez-Barbadillo. Or, as Nadal puts it, “I’m happy all the time. But I’m most happy at home.”

Ask his trainer, Rafael Maymo, what parts of Nadal’s body are under strain when he plays, and he answers: “Shoulder, feet, legs and back. Oh wait, that’s every part.” Sampras is even more direct: [Nadal] puts so much effort into each point that eventually something will break.”

But while Nadal gripes about too many matches, Toni has been reworking his nephew’s game to make it less physically demanding. In recent months, the pair have focused on increasing the velocity of Nadal’s serve in the hope of earning more aces, and improving Nadal’s net play in the hope of shortening rallies. More drastically, they have begun altering Nadal’s trademark forehand. In Paris, I spent two hours watching Nadal practice forehands with a follow-through that came around his body in the traditional manner rather than whiplashing behind his head. Toni barked complaints if his pupil unconsciously reverted to his old follow-through.

Spend a few days with Nadal and it becomes clear that the changes he is making to his game are part of a wider makeover that he and his handlers have planned for 2009. At the center of these changes is the desire to project a more mature image. Whether that comes from Nadal himself is tough to say.

Could changing tennis’s most unique and effective specimen backfire? Nadal will never lose certain aspects of what makes him so effective: his pugilist spirit, and the ability to impose his muscular game on more talented players. But so much of his success stems from his resistance to tradition that Toni’s plan to make his charge more orthodox may dim Nadal’s aura among fellow pros. When I asked the American player Andy Roddick about the changes, he couldn’t believe that Nadal would voluntarily reduce the spin on his forehand. “One of the things that is difficult about facing [Nadal] is the extreme topspin he gets on the ball,” Roddick told TIME. “If it’s true, I don’t think it would make him more effective.”

Read the full article.

1 Response

  1. admin says:

    It’s an interesting article, but it feels like the writer found a hook and just stuck with it making everything fit into his idea. If a picture of Billy Bob making a forehand with a beautiful follow-thru was on the jumbo-tron, I bet Toni would have still pointed at that and said – “like him.”