In a special episode of Tennis Legends on Eurosport, Rafael Nadal's coach Carlos Moya had a freewheeling conversation with Justine Henin and Mats Wilander - where he talked at length about his ward's elite mentality on the court.
Francisco Roig, one of Rafael Nadal's coaching staff members, and Carlos Costa, Nadal's agent, were also present during the discussion centred on the greatness of the Spanish southpaw.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion's team was unanimous in the view that despite Rafael Nadal hailing from a calm and relaxed corner of Spain, he has a certain fire in his belly that cannot be kept under wraps for long. The panelists also agreed that it is this fire, coupled with his incredible ability to stay focused, that sees Nadal through tough matches and inspired opponents.
Moya said that Rafael Nadal, coming from a family of sportspersons, was born with a slew of intrinsic qualities that make him a tough player to play against. (Nadal's uncle, Miguel Angel Nadal, played football for Spanish Primera Liga club FC Barcelona).
"I think you are born like that," Moya said. "I mean, you can learn a lot of things for sure. He learned that and improved in many ways, but you have to have it. Also his background is very good, he has a family that was in professional sport before, so for sure that helps."
Moya then went on to say that greatness cannot be taught, despite everything you can learn on a tennis court.
"I mean, if you can teach that, we will have many Rafas and we don't have that at all," Moya added. "So that's something that we, I mean, it's amazing. Nobody could expect a guy from Mallorca to win 19 Grand Slams, 12 French Opens. For me it was a big surprise that he won Wimbledon as well."
Rafael Nadal carved out a special place for Spain on the global tennis map
Justine Henin asked Moya how Rafael Nadal's family background and education have contributed to the 19-time Grand Slam champion staying humble despite achieving a plethora of laurels on the court.
Moya replied that Rafael Nadal's relaxed attitude off the court comes from his Mallorcan upbringing, where people are relaxed and easy-going.
"Like I said, his background is very good. Mallorca is a calm island. We are called the ‘calm guys from the island’ and with the atmosphere we have here, we take things very easy. You know, we are pretty relaxed, we like to chill. You know, I think in that sense, Rafa is like that."
Moya then elaborated how, despite his calm demeanour, Rafael Nadal becomes a totally different personality on the court. The left-hander is renowned for never ceding an inch of territory, and for fighting on every point as if his life depended on it.
"But then once he steps on the court, he becomes a beast," Moya said. "You know, he's more than a hundred percent. I would say he never gives up. He’s always fighting. I think even if he loses, you know - as a coach, or Carlos as an agent - that he's going to give his best."
"So going on to the court with that attitude and mindset, I think it's something that you cannot have in many players. So I guess the island and the nature of the island has something to do with it.”
Rafael Nadal's long-time agent Carlos Costa mentioned at this point that his client's future exploits could not have been foreseen at the start of his career.
Nadal, along with his Big 3 peers Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, have dominated the tennis scene with an iron fist. The trio have accumulated more than a quarter of all Grand Slam titles on offer in the Open Era, and over 36% of all titles in the Masters 1000 series.
"I mean, no, no one expects this from anybody," Costa said. "I mean, normally that is the history of tennis where there have been a lot of good players, as you said Justine. You can dominate two or three years, but at the end, somebody will change. And people you know, that generation, this case between Roger, Rafa and Nole, they have been dominating the tour and winning most of the big tournaments.
Costa concluded by saying that Rafael Nadal changed the complexion of the tennis landscape in Spain. The country had never before produced a player as dominant as him, which is why every new success coming his way has been a bit like a bonus.
"When I signed Rafa in 2005 of course I thought that he has something special and he can be one of the top players. He could win a Grand Slam, but I never thought about six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 19, never. Especially coming from Spain, where the maximum we had is Moya with one I think, Bruguera two. So in Spain, we didn’t have a lot of history about winning a lot of Grand Slams. It was difficult for us.”