Rafael Nadal's former coach and uncle Toni spoke on a wide variety of topics in an interview with La Vanguardia, a leading Spanish daily. Uncle Toni contended over just how much a player's upbringing can influence their future potential, before talking briefly about his nephew's chronic foot injury.
Toni Nadal, who helped his nephew win 16 of his 21 Grand Slam titles, was asked to give his thoughts on the importance of a healthy upbringing. In his response, the star coach illustrated a comparison between Novak Djokovic and Nadal's formative years, claiming that the Serb had put together a stellar career despite his family not having the same resources for their son's development as the Nadal family did.
He also mentioned his brother Miguel Angel, who was a first-team player for F.C. Barcelona in the 90s, to further point out just how affluent the Spanish bull's family was.
"Look at everything that Djokovic has won when his environment (as a child) is what it is..." Uncle Toni said. "In any case, the Nadal family is normal and always has been, starting with the time when my brother Miquel Angel played for Barca. We have always fled from extravagance."
Uncle Toni was also asked during the interview whether he felt his nephew was a genius, to which he replied in the negative. The Spaniard instead asserted that it was Nadal's rival Roger Federer who had transcended the sport with his talent, before adding that his nephew's legacy was adapting himself to new challenges over the years.
The coach then opined that the 21-time Major winner had reached his peak back in 2008-09. He added that the Spanish bull has focussed more on playing all-round tennis in his later years, as his signature style of play regressed in quality due to age and injuries.
"I would never say of a family member that he is a genius. Federer has managed to transcend his sport by squeezing maximum efficiency with superb elegance. Rafael has changed things to perpetuate himself: I would say that he reached his peak in 2008 and 2009," Uncle Toni said. "Today his game is more complete, he serves better, he solves points better. But he has no other choice, because as the physicist [said]..."
"The first specialist told us that Rafael would hardly do well in high-level sports" - Toni Nadal
Uncle Toni then disclosed how Nadal's camp had learned back in 2005 that he was suffering from a rare condition called Kohler's Disease, a congenital disorder in which the navicular bone of the foot does not fully develop.
The Spaniard maintained that his nephew's foot issues had first flared up in 2004, and that he continued playing competitive tennis despite various medical specialists advising against it.
"He dragged the problem from Estoril, in 2004. In 2005 we already knew what he had (a dysplasia that deforms a bone in his foot)," he said. "The first specialist told us that Rafael would hardly do well in high-level sports... He has turned out better than expected, hasn't he?"
Towards the end of the interview, Toni was also asked to give his thoughts on 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz - who showed maturity beyond his years during his title-winning run in Rio last week. The coach went on to tip the teen phenom to become World No. 1 in the future, before adding that Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev were two players who were likely to offer the Spaniard some resistance.
"He is a clear contender for number 1. He will have to compete against Medvedev or Zverev. If anything, it will be an easier time," Uncle Toni remarked.