Rafael Nadal's 2020 season came to an end with a disappointing defeat to eventual champion Daniil Medvedev at the Nitto ATP Finals in London.
The Spaniard's uncle and former coach Toni Nadal has now spoken out about his nephew's run at the season-ending tournament and his year in general, which was full of personal highs and lows.
Writing in a column for Spanish publication El Pais, Rafael Nadal's uncle reflected at length on his 6-3 6-7 3-6 defeat at the hands of Medvedev. He called the loss 'painful', since it deprived the 34-year-old of the chance to win the ATP Finals for the first time in his career.
"Rafael's defeat against Daniil Medvedev in Saturday's semifinals at the Nitto ATP Finals was painful, given the magnitude and importance of the tournament and, above all, because a great opportunity slipped away: a cup that he has never been able to lift, having deployed all week tennis of the highest level," Toni said.
However, Toni did praise his nephew for his change in tactics during the first set. Despite the fact that he was on the backfoot from the start, Rafael Nadal found a way to outsmart Medvedev in the crunch moments to take the early lead in the match.
"The match was eminently tactical. In the opening games, the Russian, supported by a great service, was clearly superior. And even so, he did not get away on the scoreboard. He was winning his services quite forcefully, while Rafael (Nadal) had to suffer to keep his, until the middle of the first set. The surprising fact is that Daniil chained the first 16 aces consecutively, something that I had never seen in any of the matches that my nephew has played throughout his career," Toni said.
"In the second half of this first set, Rafael made the right decision to change strategy and stopped playing his usual game to cut mostly his backhand and play more in the center of the court," Rafael Nadal's uncle added. "The intention was, clearly, to neutralize the attack of his rival, who returned insufferable blows if the track was opened."
The Spaniard believes that Rafael Nadal's intensity dipped after he failed to serve out the match in the second set, which was all the invitation that Medvedev needed to close it out.
"After not being able to score that conclusive game, he lost the set in the tie break and then, judging by the impression he gave me, the fatigue suffered and he was no longer able to maintain the same intensity in the rest of the match," Toni went on.
Toni lamented the fact Rafael Nadal had fallen short of winning the elusive ATP Finals title yet again, despite having arrived in the British capital fresher than he usually does.
"This is how, as has happened on other occasions, Rafael could not finish a magnificent season with the finishing touch that would mean crowning himself master of masters," said Toni.
Toni also took stock of the 'strange year', and said he was highly impressed by his nephew's season - where he won a historic 13th Roland Garros title.
"However, when it comes to taking stock of this strange year, the assessment has to be clearly positive," Toni said. "Raising the French Open for the 13th time amply justifies this appreciation. But, in addition, the game exhibited both at Roland Garros and in London makes me hope to see him face a difficult but exciting season in 2021, in which he will once again have exciting opportunities."
The 59-year-old went on to acknowledge that the younger generation has finally arrived, as shown by the success of Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev and the likes. However, Toni is optimistic that Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will continue to compete for the Slams, pushing themselves to the 'limit of their strength'.
"I am convinced that the step forward taken by Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas or Alexander Zverev, not to mention someone else, is now definitive. But I am also happy that, for yet another year, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will fight to the limit of their strength to continue climbing to the podiums of the Grand Slams and the most important tournaments," concluded the Spaniard.