Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Is Rafael Nadal the greatest? Ask me in five years, says Uncle Toni, who knows the US Open champion best


By Mike Dickson

Moment to savour: Rafael Nadal celebrates his US triumph

Toni Nadal had let one glass of champagne pass his lips following his nephew's milestone US Open triumph, but there was no danger of him getting giddy.

While a family celebration was unfurling around him, the mentor who has coached Nadal man and boy was demonstrating why the new champion remains so grounded.

'The best players were Federer, Laver, Borg - Rafael is far away from them, although he is a very good player,' was Uncle Toni's take on his charge's place in history after the rain-interrupted 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 win over Novak Djokovic.

And there was no false modesty in his voice, despite the figures making this less than clear-cut.

'Is Rafael the greatest? Come and ask me in five or six years' time and I will tell you.'

Should Nadal win the Australian Open in the new year, there will be a compelling case for saying he is without peer, as nobody has ever held all four Grand Slam titles at once on such a variety of surfaces.

On the move: Nadal's win over Djokovic saw him claim his ninth grand slam

But while it seemed half the island of Mallorca and Spain's royal family were posing for photos with the victor, Toni chose to play down the significance of him joining the elite band to have won all four in their careers.

'Agassi won all four titles and (Ivan) Lendl did not but who is the better player? Lendl, I think. To win all four is important but the most important thing is that he has won nine Grand Slams.'

This speaks of an ambition to close the gap further on Roger Federer's total of 16, something that will surely depend on how successfully they manage to control the wear and tear on Nadal's knees.

Mutual respect: Nadal's trainer and uncle,Toni says Federer is the greatest
It is also, in the view of the man who knows him best, conditional on him continuing to improve a game which every season seems to sprout new dimensions.

'It is very satisfying that Rafael is improving so much,' said Toni. 'His second serve can get better and he can volley better, and you saw he got nervous on some break points in the third set.'

Clearly the quest for perfection and modesty runs in the family. There is also the awareness that things can go wrong, and it has to be remembered that Nadal's knee problems have been attritional, not the result of some one-off trauma that can be completely repaired.

In the thick of it: Nadal paraded the US Open trophy in Times Square on Tuesday

'Tennis is relentless, you never know after one month or 15 days if you might have problems,' Toni conceded.

The turnaround in Nadal's fortunes over the past 10 months is remarkable. Uncle Toni saw last year's season-end Barclays ATP Tour World Finals in London, where he lost all three group matches, as the low point.

'There were eight players there and seven of them were better than Rafael, so it's unbelievable where we are now,' he said.

'Winning in Monte Carlo (in April) was like a liberation, and the most important match was winning the French Open final. Now winning three Grand Slams in succession is a dream, no? I wouldn't have believed it in February.'

The player himself felt the US final was among the most special moments of his career because the fast conditions on the blue cement go most against his natural style.

'This is the most difficult for me. In Australia, when it's hot, the ball bounces high and while I have to make adjustments for Wimbledon my movement is good on the grass,' said Nadal. 'My serve here was the most important thing.'

He took a similar view to his uncle about comparisons with Federer: 'Talk about whether Roger is better is stupid because the number of titles he has says he is better. But he has improved all his career and I have always tried to copy that.'

Nadal now singles out the ATP World Tour Finals at London's O2 Arena in November as his major target.

'The goal is to finish the season much better than I did in other years,' he said. You would not put it past him, body permitting.

Britain's Elena Baltacha, 27, has broken into the world's top 50 for the first time, rising eight places to 49 after reaching the second round of the US Open.

source: dailymail [endtext]

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