Toni Nadal: "Rafa Is A Better Player Now"
Nadal's uncle and coach reveals off-season strategy
"I'm a little tired of talking about 2015," confessed Rafael Nadal in Doha, where he reached his first final of 2016.
Indeed, the Spaniard is eager to put behind him a turbulent 12 months, which saw him struggle to regain his best form after injury and illness had curtailed his 2014 campaign.
By most players’ standards, 2015 would have been considered a success – three ATP World Tour titles and a 61-20 match record. But the 14-time Grand Slam champion could only reach the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and Roland Garros and went 7-11 against Top 10 opponents.
With the 29 year old back to full fitness, Nadal and his coaching team – led by his uncle, Toni Nadal, with Francis Roig as his second coach – went to work in the off-season to bring his game back up to its highest level, making improvements and adjustments where necessary, but not at the cost of sacrificing Nadal’s trademark style.
"The pre-season has gone very well," Toni Nadal told ATPWorldTour.com. "We have intensified the training both in the length of the sessions and the rhythm. As was the case at the end of last season, I think things are going very well. In fact, I think Rafael's level is better than at this point last year.
“That he’s feeling good physically helped us more,” continued Uncle Toni. “For a long time we had to be careful with the workouts because there were various problems, but for a while now we have been able to do high intensity training sessions for as long as we want. I also think we have managed to get him back to playing aggressively, and that's what he needs to do to play well."
As well as prioritising good physical conditioning, honing a specific plan on the court was an integral part of the off-season strategy.
"The game today is very different from four years ago", said Roig, who will accompany the team to Australia. "Now, the start of a sequence of play is vital and if you hit a bad second serve, you tighten up and right from the first ball you have lost the initiative.
“You have to adapt to what the good players are doing and, as he’s very good himself, we thought he could adapt and change certain aspects of his game and I think he is doing that."
As such, balancing increased aggression with Nadal’s staple baseline play became the focus. "Now I see him play and know that he can win the point in many more ways,” said Roig. “Without losing his basics of playing one more shot, but also without retreating and letting the ball drop."
Will see a new Nadal in 2016? "We're not doing anything new,” explains Uncle Toni. “Rather we are going back to the things we did in 2008, 2010 and 2013, but which, for one reason or another - usually physical problems that stopped him from having continuity in his game - we could not do.”