Uncle Toni recalls how Rafael Nadal won his first USO with a changed grip

  • Uncle Toni talked about Rafael Nadal's win at the 2010 US Open, and the changes he made to break the duck.
  • The Spaniard's long-standing coach also provided an insight into the days leading up to the tournament.
Modified 21 May 2020, 02:45 IST

Rafael Nadal poses with his 2010 US Open title
Rafael Nadal poses with his 2010 US Open title

As part of Eurosports' "Players' Cut" series on Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard's uncle and long-time coach Toni Nadal spoke to Mats Wilander about the left-hander's win over Novak Djokovic in the 2010 US Open final.

Uncle Toni remarked that it was a special win in a special year for Rafael Nadal, who lifted three Grand Slam titles in a season for the only time in his career that year.

"For us this tournament (win) was very important because we knew if Rafael won the US Open, he would have won each of the four Grand Slams at least once, so that final was special. We were a little tense before the match," Toni said.

Of course, the four-set triumph over Novak Djokovic was truly 'special' as it made Rafael Nadal the youngest of only four players in the Open Era to win the Career Grand Slam.

Before Rafael Nadal, only Rod Laver (1969), Andre Agassi (1999) and Roger Federer (2009) had accomplished the coveted feat. Nadal's US Open win also made him the first player in the Open Era since Laver to win three consecutive Grand Slam titles in a calendar year.

Uncle Toni acknowledged that the fourth different Grand Slam title in his nephew's trophy cabinet was the hardest of the lot. Rafael Nadal took as many as eight visits to Flushing Meadows to reach his first US Open final - the longest he had taken to reach the title match at any Major.

"At that moment Rafael was a very good player," Toni said. "He was number 1. In my mind it was a very important match. I knew it would be good for us if he could win the fourth Grand Slam. And Rafael did win the 4th Grand Slam. He’s the only clay(court) specialist player who has done that. It’s true that for Rafael it was a little more difficult to win the 4th (than the others)." 

What else did Toni Nadal say about Rafael Nadal's 2010 US Open win?

Rafael Nadal is all smiles after winning the 2010 US Open title
Rafael Nadal is all smiles after winning the 2010 US Open title

Toni Nadal also talked about the practice days leading up to the last Grand Slam tournament of the year in 2010. Rafael Nadal was seemingly in 'bad' shape after a strenuous workload on North American hardcourts where the Spaniard lifted the Coupe Rogers - Cincinnati double.

"I remember in the first practice days Rafael arrived to play really bad," Toni said. "He had many problems with the touch, with the balls. We practiced in Monaco and at the end we did some serves."

Earlier in the season, Rafael Nadal won Masters 1000 titles in Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome to become the first player to win all three claycourt Masters 1000 tournaments in the same season. The Spaniard then proceeded to emulate Bjorn Borg as the only players in the Open Era to win the Roland Garros - Wimbledon double in a calendar year on multiple occasions.

Days ahead of the start of the 2010 US Open, Rafael Nadal approached his uncle and told him:

"I would (like to) change the grip and try to play like (I did) at Wimbledon."

Rafael Nadal had changed his service grip at Wimbledon to combat the heavy balls at the grasscourt Major. And Toni gave him the green signal to proceed with the changed grip even in New York, which ultimately made a big difference.

The Spaniard gained confidence with every win and served incredibly well - arguably the best he has ever served in his career - throughout the 2010 US Open. He regularly clocked above 125kph on the speed gun that tournament, something that he has rarely been able to replicate since.

"You know, in Wimbledon Rafael changed the grip for the serve, because the balls are heavy there," Toni explained. "So he changed his grip a little. Okay, I said. Try it. He took confidence and he started to play very well, and he served well during the whole tournament."

Uncle Toni then ended the conversation with a chuckle:

"But the problem was after this tournament, his original serve came back."

It turned out to be a 'problem' that uncle and nephew have had little complaints about in the years since.

What transpired in the aftermath of Rafael Nadal's 2010 US Open win?

Rafael Nadal poses with his 2019 US Open title
Rafael Nadal poses with his 2019 US Open title

Following his maiden title at Flushing Meadows in 2010, Rafael Nadal's fortunes dramatically improved at the last Grand Slam tournament on the tennis calendar.

Barring a third round loss to Fabio Fognini in 2015 and a fourth round tiebreak loss to Lucas Pouille in 2016, Rafael Nadal has made at least the semifinals in each of his seven subsequent appearances at the US Open.

A year after his first title at the tournament, Rafael Nadal fell in a four-set final against the same opponent - before reversing the result again in 2013. Four years after that, the Spaniard beat Kevin Anderson to win his third US Open title.

Rafael Nadal then beat another first-time Grand Slam finalist Daniil Medvedev in a pulsating five-set 2019 final, to move to within one win of all-time Grand Slam title-leader Roger Federer (20).

Published 21 May 2020, 02:35 IST
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