Rafael Nadal is the player who most struggled Roger Federer during his career. The Swiss champion won only one Roland Garros mainly due to the Spaniard, who also beat him at Wimbledon in 2008 and in the Australian Open final the following year.
Speaking in an interview with Eurosport, uncle Toni opened up about seeing something in the then 16-year-old’s game which would eventually create ample problems for Federer. “I observed his attitude, physically and mentally from a very young age, his skills and his coordination,” he said.
“And then I figured that Rafael could play with a lot of intensity because this is how he loves the sport. I always wanted that Rafael to be able to hit forehand winners, but he played with a lot of a spin, maybe too much sometimes.
When we arrived on the ATP tour, Rafael was really young, he was 16 years old, and then he started to play with older players, with people who were stronger. Then Rafael started to hit the ball a little late, he started to play high above the net with extreme spin.
I didn’t like too much that he played this way, but at the end I saw that it was a good way to win. His forehand is hit high above the net, but when the ball bounces, it keeps its speed, it accelerates (contrary to other players).
Rafael moves his wrist a little faster and then the ball bounces, the ball has so much pace. On clay, he has seen that with his extreme top-spin forehands were putting opponents in a difficult position because every time he could hit the ball two or three times over the backhand of his opponents pushing them to hit it back at shoulder height.
Then it was easy for him to get a short ball and hit to the other side. Though, he knows that on hard court it is different. But despite inadvertently causing years of pain for Federer, Toni went on to describe him as the best ever tennis player ‘at the moment” – he concluded.