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INTERVIEW | TONI NADAL

"Rafa has always been a strategic player"

The resurgence of the 14-times Grand Slam winner at the end of 2015 has veered off course this year. Toni Nadal analyzes the situation for AS. Murray vs Wawrinka

"Rafa has always been a strategic player"
Julian Finney Getty

After the defeats against Thiem and Cuevas in Buenos Aires and Rio, added to the los to Verdasco in the first round in Melbourne, is Rafa’s plan for the season still the same? What is the problem at the moment?

The plan for the season will remain the same as we originally thought. Although saying that, obviously the play wasn’t very good between Buenos Aires and Rio, so… we weren’t able to get the results we wanted.

Several coaches have said that Rafa’s cross-court drive has stopped being effective…

It’s true that shot isn’t doing as much damage as it was before, anybody can see that. The problem as I see it, basically, is one of being calm.

Will you make changes?

We’ll talk about the things we need to tweak, but I’ll keep that to myself.

Can you explain the root of the problem and the current situation?

Everything was going well at the end of 2015, when he was playing well in the autumn and at the Tour Finals, where he won three matches playing well and running less than his opponents. In Abu Dhabi he beat Ferrer and Raonic and in Doha, Rafa only lost to Djokovic. In training games in Australia he beat Murray and Berdych. Then came the match against Verdasco, where he was two points away from winning… but he didn’t win. Every time you don’t win you lose a bit of confidence and…

And…?

When you lose confidence and a sense of calm, you play more and more tightly, including on break points. And then, that drive shot, which is the strong point of Rafa’s game, stopped having its usual effect, it’s not the same as it was, and opponents started to notice and to look for their chances. Even so, we had a match point against Thiem and he didn’t play badly, but Thiem hit a forehand down the line. And there were two break point opportunities for 3-1 in the third set against Cuevas. He’s been close every time.

The impression is that Rafa Nadal is finding everything just that little bit harder every day…

It’s been 10 years since 2005, when he won his first Grand Slam, but Rafa is in good shape physically. In Rio, against Cuevas, he coped well in the third set of a long, tough match. He still has the desire. Rafa has always been a strategic player, not one who wins points directly with his serve or return. That has changed [in the game]. In Australia, 70 percent of the points were won in four or fewer shots. We have had to adjust. And Rafa was doing it well, we were at a high level in London, Abu Dhabi and Doha… just when this current run started.

What do you think about the talk of Rafa hiring a new coach, or a new coaching team?

Please, I don’t know how often I have to keep saying it… It's like the book by Vargas Llosa says: The Civilization of Entertainment. Does anyone remember today who John McEnroe’s coach was? No. Here we have a team, a collective responsibility. From the most responsibility to the least, we are Francis Roig, Toni Nadal and Rafa Nadal. Between 2005 and 2014, between us we did a lot of things that worked out well… and that now are not working for whatever reason. We feel that we are close. And we will carry on trying.