Toni Nadal, Rafael Nadal's uncle and ex-coach, recently spoke at length about his nephew, the Big 3, the Next Gen and tennis in general on a Spanish podcast. And in one section of the interview, Toni tried to explain why Novak Djokovic isn't as popular among the fans as his two big rivals.
Toni Nadal first pointed out that the Serb burst onto the scene when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had already cemented their respective fanbases with their contrasting styles of play.
"It hurt him to finally arrive on the circuit when there was already a very strong rivalry between Roger and Rafa," Toni said. "Federer and Nadal, they were two opposing styles, two different trajectories, and that made the fans very excited. It was therefore difficult to find a place at that time."
However, the Spanish coach also believes that Novak Djokovic's ego and on-court attitude contributed to his relative lack of love from the public.
"After that, I also think Novak's ego has hurt him," Toni said. "Especially when it comes to having certain behaviors on the court that are incompatible with being number one."
Speaking of Rafael Nadal's head-to-head matchup against Novak Djokovic, Toni explained how the Serb has always been trickier to strategize against than Federer. While he used to advise his nephew to consistently direct strong and bouncy shots to Federer's backhand, Djokovic was more complex to devise tactics against.
"With Roger everything was always easier because since 2006 we focused on starting almost all the points playing a high and strong ball to his backhand," Toni said. "Djokovic has always been much more complex, we did not know how to read his game."
Toni further recalled a moment from the final of the 2010 US Open, when his nephew came up to him for some advice in the middle of the match. While the Spanish coach verbally instructed Nadal to primarily hit down the center with depth, he was internally praying for a miracle because Djokovic was simply playing better tennis.
"I remember in the US Open 2010 Rafa came up to me in the middle of the game and asked me what to do," Toni said. "I instructed him to play hard and deep to the center, and only change directions when he had a very advantageous position. But inside, I was thinking that we were only left to pray because this guy was being better than Rafa."
"Young people are less willing to think because they focus on hitting hard" - Toni Nadal
Uncle Toni also addressed how the game has changed since the time Rafael Nadal came onto the tour. He feels that players nowadays invest more in the physical aspect of the game than the strategic part.
"This sport has become a game of speed, not strategy," Toni said. "In a short time, everything has accelerated a lot. In the first years of Rafa's career, you found players who allowed to play, who fought for every ball and thought. Now the way to seek victory is to hit hard before the opponent."
Toni went on to emphasize that the basics - such as maintaining a high percentage of first serves - matter the most at the end of the day. But he added that players today don't think too much for themselves and instead leave it to their coaches.
"I feel that now everything is well studied, but in the end what it all consists of is playing well," Toni said. "Having a high percentage of first serves, playing with good speed. I think that right now young people are less willing to think because they focus on hitting hard and they have coaches around them who are in charge of strategy."
Asked about the level and prospects of the Next Gen, Toni Nadal remarked that at their best level, they can match the Big 3. But he went on to add that their troughs are as low as their crests are high, and that those who stabilize their level will ultimately dominate the others.
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"When they play at their best level they are at the level of the Big 3, the problem is that when they play badly their level drops more," Toni said. "Whoever manages to stabilize that will be able to become the dominator."