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Miami loss to Roger Federer gave Rafael Nadal the belief to win his 1st RG title: Uncle Toni

  • Rafael Nadal's Parisian love affair began with a magnificent win in 2005, and his uncle Toni recounted the season.
  • According to Toni, Rafa knew his moment had truly arrived after the narrow loss to Roger Federer at Miami.
Modified 19 May 2020, 01:06 IST

Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2005
Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros 2005

It all started in 2005. Rafael Nadal, then an up-and-coming tenacious Spanish teenager, arrived in Paris to take part in his first French Open - where he would face World No. 1 Roger Federer in the semis. And so began one of the greatest romances the city of love has ever witnessed.

Over the next decade and a half the Mallorcan magician went on a record-breaking spree, turning the red clay of Roland Garros into his personal fiefdom. He has lifted the trophy a staggering 12 times so far, and been rightfully hailed as the best clay-court player of all time.

Rafael Nadal - King Of Clay
Rafael Nadal - King Of Clay

But back in 2005, not many thought Rafael Nadal could actually win the whole thing on his first attempt. Not so for his coach and mentor Toni Nadal though, who never doubted his nephew.

In a recent interaction with another Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander for Eurosport UK, Toni said he always knew Rafa could win it.

"Rafa was one of the best on clay, if not the best," Toni said of the then 18-year-old Rafael Nadal during the interview.

That was some amazing confidence to have in a rookie French Open player, especially with the likes of the majestic Roger Federer being the top seed and players like Nikolay Davydenko, Marat Safin and even Andre Agassi being still in the mix. That's not to discount a whole posse of Spanish claycourt specialists including Tommy Robredo, David Ferrer and former champion Carlos Moya all fancying their chances in Paris.

But for Toni, all of those players were beatable. And in the end, he was proven right - most notably with the stirring win over Roger Federer in the semifinal.

Rafael Nadal was in prime form on clay in 2005

Toni with his nephew Rafael.
Toni with his nephew Rafael.

Rafael Nadal was simply unstoppable during the clay season that year, winning 24 matches in a row and beating a long-standing Andre Agassi record in the process. Toni recounted:

When we arrived for the clay season, we started to play well. He won in Monte Carlo, beating (Guillermo) Coria and (Richard) Gasquet.

Nadal also won titles in Rome and Barcelona to go up to No. 5 in the world; a tornado had arrived and was starting to blow away the competition on clay. However, as much as one expected him to do well in the Slam, not many thought a title was in the offing. Except for Toni, of course.

"When we arrived in Paris, we thought we can win," Toni said.

Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer in four sets on his 19th birthday, and then toppled Mariano Puerta to have his first bite of the trophy. An epoch had begun.

The foundation was laid in Miami loss to Roger Federer: Toni

But for Toni, the win was foreshadowed much earlier - back on the hard courts of Miami, where he face the reigning hardcourt king Roger Federer. Toni said:

In 2005, everything started to change in Miami. He was very close to beating Roger Federer in the final. I (had) thought Roger Federer is too good for Rafael... I thought it was impossible that we could win...but Rafael was very close. He won the first two sets and then he that moment we knew Rafael was there."

Clearly, Rafael Nadal's future greatness was foreshadowed in a narrow defeat to the best in the business (and his future arch-rival), Roger Federer. Toni Nadal had presaged the birth of a champion, and he got it right. Big time.

Published 19 May 2020, 01:06 IST
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