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UNCLE TONI TO RAFAEL NADAL: FEDERER’S SO MUCH BETTER THAN YOU

I admit it, the Fedophile in me ran screaming from S.L. Price’s Sports Illustrated article based on its title alone: “How Nadal humbled Federer.” But boy, am I glad I talked myself into reading it, because it’s chock-full of fascinating facts and anecdotes that even the most avid tennis fanatic may have missed along the way. Obviously, you should click here to read the entire thing, but if you still need persuading, here are some excerpts:

Uncle Toni’s past as a table tennis champion helped form one of Rafa’s most formidable weapons:

At first the (young Rafa) hit his strokes fairly flat, and Toni soon realized he needed a bigger weapon. So, recalling his own spin-happy Ping-Pong days, Toni persuaded Rafa to develop what some players call a reverse forehand — in which, instead of swinging the racket across his body and finishing above his right shoulder, he jerks the racket back after striking the ball and finishes above his left — to impart extreme topspin. Thanks to his remarkable racket speed and to advances in string technology, Rafa was eventually able to hit shots that rotated at an unprecedented 3,200 revolutions per minute (compared with Federer’s 2,500), fell inside the lines and, most important, bounced like a frightened jackrabbit, high and away from the perfect player’s backhand. The stroke’s impact? Eric Hechtman, a hitting partner for both players, says returning Nadal’s forehand feels “like you’re breaking off your arm.”

On Uncle Toni & Co.’s strict training regimen (it’s a little over the top):

Toni and Rafa both knew that Rafa’s forehand, whose height was lessened by grass and hard courts, couldn’t do the job alone. Every dimension of his game had to improve. Toni would list his nephew’s deficiencies, stroke by stroke, each time they faced Federer. “He’s so much better than you,” Toni would say, “but if you believe and work, you can win.”

Indeed, it has been easy to reduce Nadal’s triumph to mere belief and work, as if he were some implacable primitive: will personified. The truth, however, is that Camp Rafa is a fairly sophisticated operation. A Majorcan trainer, Juan Forcades, oversees Nadal’s conditioning. Physical therapist Rafael Maymo spends much of his day taking notes on when and what Nadal eats; when he goes to sleep and when he wakes; how much time he spends hitting forehands, backhands and volleys. Toni, meanwhile, has harped on his nephew’s weaknesses so effectively that even in the earliest rounds of last year’s French Open, Rafa was scared of losing. Toni reassured him — “You’re Number 1 on clay!” — but it didn’t matter. “He never relaxes,” Toni says. “He’s so afraid for every match.”


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Tags: ATP, Nadal, SI, Toni, Uncle

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