Lionel Messi has captivated football fans all over the globe with his tremendous ball-control, fantastic foot-speed and magical ability to hoodwink even the best defenders before putting the ball into the back of the net. And the latest to join the list of Messi's admirers is Toni Nadal, the uncle and former coach of tennis icon Rafael Nadal.
In a recent interview with Super Deportivo Radio program on Argentina's Radio Villa Trinidad, the senior Nadal called Messi the "the best athlete of all time". He also said the record 6-time Ballon d'Or winner is simply a cut above the rest.
"When Federer, Djokovic and Nadal play well, they logically win, and when they play badly, they also win. What Messi does, I've never seen anyone do before. My children are huge fans of his and they're always showing me videos. He's the best athlete of all time," said Toni.
Both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer did a good thing for tennis: Toni
Messi is famous for his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo on the football field, but Toni is familiar with another iconic rivalry: the one between his nephew and Roger Federer. For both Rafa and his uncle though, the battle is strictly confined to the court; off the court, they have tremendous regard for the Swiss.
Respecting other athletes is something Toni Nadal swears by; in his eyes, it is the foundation of all success. The 59-year-old, who has been the chief architect of Rafael Nadal's stellar career, made it a point to ingrain in his nephew the importance of respecting his rivals.
Humility is widely considered one of Rafa's strongest qualities, which is also a big reason behind his well-documented friendship with Roger Federer.
Toni himself has spoken highly of the Swiss maestro many times in the past. This time was no different, as he showered praise on Federer and Nadal liberally while speaking about their storied rivalry.
"I think that both of them did a good thing for the sport. I do not conceive rivalries beyond the field. I do not conceive hatred of the rival. I believe that Rafa and Federer put into practice the essence of the sport that it is about having the maximum rivalry on the track, but when the game is over, everything is over," said Toni.
Rafael Nadal can play for 3-4 years more: Toni
The longevity of both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is already the stuff of legend. Their desire to reinvent their games, coupled with their insatiable will to win the biggest trophies in the sport, have helped them achieve considerable success in their 30s.
That said, Roger Federer is now 38 while Rafael Nadal is 33. It is obvious that their years at the highest level of the sport are numbered, irrespective of how hard they keep pushing.
Toni thinks that the 19-time Grand Slam champion has 3-4 more years of tennis left in him if he can avoid injuries.
"Rafael can have 3 or 4 years of tennis easy, as long as the injuries respect him, he feels motivated and with the conviction of continuing to win. I would not imagine Rafael being on the circuit and playing to play, and that it doesn't matter if he loses than if he wins.
As for Federer, Toni said the 20-time Major winner still has the confidence to win the elite tournaments. The senior Nadal believes Federer will continue playing as long as he is competitive, so retirement could still be some distance away.
"Why does Federer keep playing? Because he knows he can still win important titles," Toni added.