Moya: 'My Belief In Rafa Is At An All-Time High'
As an ATP World Tour player, Carlos Moya lifted the Roland Garros trophy in 1998. His first Grand Slam achievement as a coach came a year ago, when he helped guide Rafael Nadal to his 10th Roland Garros title. ATPWorldTour.com spoke with coach Moya ahead of Rafa's first-round match at Roland Garros against Simone Bolelli.
How is Nadal feeling going into Roland Garros this year?
Like last year, he's going into Roland Garros with three titles on the season (Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Internazionali BNL d’Italia). Having said that, the circumstances are a little different this year. Losing in Rome to [Dominic] Thiem in '17 (QFs, 4-6, 3-6) was a matter of fatigue. It was significant, of course, and we looked into it but we blamed an accumulation of exhaustion and the conditions in Rome over anything else.
In general, we didn't jump to conclusions or get overly dramatic after that loss; it was just something to keep an eye on at the time. We went into Rome this year with a different approach. After losing to Thiem in Madrid this year (QFs, 5-7, 3-6), the approach to Rome was about validation. How Rafa bounces back from defeat is what matters most.
Nadal's draw this year seems advantageous...
I don't know about that. We've checked out our half of the draw, but we don't like to look too far ahead. We take matters one match at a time. Every opponent and each match needs to be assessed before we start thinking about who might be next.
Was withdrawing from Indian Wells ( BNP Paribas Open) and Miami (Miami Open presented by Itau) a team decision to give Nadal time to recover from a hip-related injury and increase his chances of being ready to defend his title in Paris?
Roland Garros is the ultimate goal, but success throughout the clay season is very important to us. Rafa was a little preoccupied about not facing stiff competition in time for Roland Garros but looking back, he obviously has been able to play and he has been challenged. He likes to go into Roland Garros with momentum and we've achieved that goal. Rafa’s healthy and he managed to play very competitive tournaments and was tested repeatedly, so we're where we want to be. Roland Garros is where Rafa defends 60 per cent of his points, so doing well here is key.
You won your first Grand Slam as a coach here a year ago. What has changed since then?
As a coach, you're always adapting and getting to know your player's game more thoroughly. I'm always analysing the circumstances and where we stand at that moment. Compared to this time last year, I understand Rafa more, both as a player and as a person.
Does it surprise you that once again, Nadal is the leading contender to win at Roland Garros?
No, it doesn't surprise me. I trust him and believe in both his quality of play and his talent. When it comes to Rafa, I know what I'm dealing with. I've known him as my rival, and then as his mentor. Now that I spend more time with him, my belief in Rafa is at an all-time high. He's in a good place, both mentally and physically.
In regard to your time as Nadal's rival as opposed to his coach: Can you describe the time you faced Nadal at Roland Garros in 2007? (Nadal d. Moya 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 in QF)
He was a whirlwind and he blew me off the court. I was playing well, but he was on another level and there was little I could do to compete that day.
Is there one match that stands out against Nadal that you use as a way to improve his game?
I lost to Rafa in 2008 at Chennai 7-6(3), 6-7(8), 7-6(1). That match was an epic one. I'm not really big on looking at the past; my philosophy as coach is more about what we can do now and what's ahead of us.
You've said before that the most important thing is that Nadal keeps the desire and the will to win. What is the key to not losing either of the two?
It's about staying positive, even when things get ugly. We experienced two difficult moments after the injuries Rafa sustained at the Australian Open and in Acapulco. Having to withdraw from Indian Wells and Miami, that was hard. The upbeat feeling came back when Rafa was healthy again, and he was training at full strength. But getting back there is never easy and it takes mental strength as well.
You've also said there's always room for improvement. Considering where Nadal is right now in terms of form, what's there to improve?
A player can always get better and in a lot of ways. Your positioning on the court, your aggressiveness, your approaches... that's why training is so important for us. Once the match starts, it isn't about improving but remembering what you learned on the practice court.
If you aren't practising hard enough, then you're not going to have those tools to rely on once the match begins because there's so much going through your mind. Those reactions need to be built into your mind so you don't have to think as much once you're out there. So maybe it's more about "remembering" rather than just "improving." Of course, when we train, we are trying to fix things as well. But this isn't something we do especially for Roland Garros, this is every week. We see something, we address it immediately.
Have you been able to do any sort of specialised training this season?
No, not as much compared to last year due to the injuries. We use our training time to focus on any outstanding issues we notice the match before.
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Does Nadal get nervous this time of year?
I wouldn't call it nervous, but he does feel pressure going into Roland Garros.
So the pressure is there.
Correct. We as a team feel pressure. Team Nadal is under constant pressure to win. We're talking about one of the all-time greats here. We know with whom we are dealing with and there's no use trying to dance around that. Rafa will be the first to admit we're under pressure all the time.
Do you enjoy that feeling?
I'd rather play under pressure than compete with nothing to lose. Pressure isn't always a bad thing. I had to live with that pressure when I was on Tour, at a different level than Nadal has to deal with, of course, and I'm living with it again as his coach. So I get it, and it's just something I have to accept.
Is Novak Djokovic back in form? All signs point that he's there.
We've picked up on those signals for a while now. They became loud and clear in Rome, where he lost a very tough match against Rafa. When Rafa was on point, he was a little superior, but if he dipped even a little bit, they played on level terms. Anything could have happened. This is Novak we're talking about, another all-time great. He can pounce at any time.
Some consider Dominic Thiem as Nadal's top rival on clay, but Alexander Zverev has already won two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events on the surface (Rome 2017, Madrid 2018).
A lot of attention has been focused on Thiem because he's defeated Rafa three times on clay and because he's established himself as a solid player on the surface. Sascha is more well-rounded though, and he can play well on any surface, but he hasn't beaten Rafa on clay. This doesn't mean Thiem is better than Sascha or Djokovic, but he's been the most successful against Rafa as of late. So I get that people consider Thiem as Rafa's biggest threat.
Besides Thiem, who else do you consider the biggest threats to Nadal's Roland Garros title defence this year?
Djokovic, as usual, and Sascha. [Marin] Cilic and [Kei] Nishikori as well, but taking into consideration every match is a five-set match, I'd say Thiem, Djokovic and Zverev are the biggest threats.