Peter Bodo's TennisWorld - Uncle Toni
Home       About Peter Bodo       Contact        RSS       Follow on Twitter Categories       Archive
Uncle Toni 10/21/2008 - 2:30 PM

by Pete Bodo

You hang around this game long enough and you come across an impressive array of coaching types. You have the controversial Svengalis, among whom the outstanding model is Ion Tiriac. Early in his young career, Guillermo Vilas essentially said: "Here I am, make of me what you will." And Tiriac, with a great feeling for Vilas's character and appetite for work, transformed the young Argentine into a clay-court master who would be eclipsed, historically, only by Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal.

Hugs Then you have the tennis nuts, among whom Nick Bollettieri stands out. Operating on the powerful platform of his tennis academy, Bollettieri left his imprint on the contemporary game by articulating what I ultimately came to call the New World Game, based on aggressive baseline play with an emphasis on the forehand and taking the ball on the rise; Bollettieri down-sized the game, more or less eliminating the approach shot in favor of the sizzling placement hit from inside the baseline, usually with the forehand. His proteges are well known, starting with Jimmy Arias and on through Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and others. And, more than any other coach of a top player, Bollettieri has been a general tennis evangelist, spreading the gospel of tennis near and far with his eponymous academy serving as a kind of Vatican for his converts.

You have sports nuts: Brad Gilbert is a sports nut who happened to gravitate to tennis, both as a player and a coach. One of the greatest assets of this type of coach is the ability to put tennis into a general context, enabling players to ramp up their ability as competitors. Gilbert knows his X's and O's as well as anyone - yet one of his most telling coaching ploys was convincing Andy Roddick to dump that dorky visor he used to wear in favor of the more muscular, duck-bill cap. It helped Roddick earn the world no. 1 ranking.

You also have the purists: Think Paul Annacone. Although Annacone had a healthy passion for all sports, he was a true connisseur of tennis in all of its strategic, technical, and psychological dimensions. He was the perfect fit for Pete Sampras, a great believer in the less-is-more approach to most things, including his tennis. Annacone's thoughtful but never overly cerebral or byzantine analyses resonated with Sampras in what might be the most productive, successful, and, well, dignified coach-protege relationship of our time.

And then there are the mentors, the coaches who shape and mold players the way that a favorite college professor, minister, or immediate superior at your first full time job influenced you. These men and women aren't Svengalis, painting their own portraits on the canvas of a player's soul in a process that's often a tame and sunny version of that literary staple, the deal with the devil. The mentors are first and foremost tennis coaches, yet they're wise, discreet, principled and, ultimate, caring. They're just as interested in shaping young minds as exuberantly and sometimes wildly youthful games. They try to develop character, and not always for selfless reasons, because they are masters of understanding the relationship character can have to a player's results and motivations.

Bob Brett, who at various times coached Andres Gomez, Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic, Mario Ancic (he's currently working with Marin Cilic), is one of the great mentors - and still one of my favorite people in tennis. An old-school disciple of Harry Hopman, Brett left Australia because he was spurned and shut out of the official cabal comprised of former Grand Slam champions and lifelong bureaucrats, Brett believed in tennis, character is destiny. He felt that if he could shape and improve the character of his players, it would produce results on the tennis court.

Bob once told me a long story about a discussion he had with Goran Ivanisevic about. . . towels. The details are insignificant, but they had to do with the way Goran disposed of the official tournament towels he used, and Brett's intent was to get Ivanisevic to think about actions and consequences, profligacy and trusteeship. It  was about towels, sure, but it was also about holding serve and about realizing that you have only so many chances to throw away - or capitalize upon - in your career. For a young player who sees nothing but future, and therefore knows nothing about regret, who never has to pay a dime for anything, and to whom everything is replaceable (by someone else, of course) at the snap of a finger, understanding about towels is a kind of doorway to understanding about digging a little deeper when you're about to lose a first-rounder in Vienna, or to getting over your disgruntlement because the drinks in the court-side cooler aren't cold enough for your taste.

Toni Nadal is a mentor, perhaps to an even greater degree than Brett. When El Jon Wertheim and I sat down with him at the US Open to plumb his coaching philosophy and background, neither of us knew exactly what to expect. Even to us as journalists, Toni has been a somewhat enigmatic figure - was he support team, family member, minder, tactician, strategist, emotional anchor?  Although he's been a bona fide tennis coach for decades (he once coached the no. 2 junior in Spain), it's almost impossible to get Toni to focus on the X's and O's - so much so that neither El Jon nor I even thought to ask him about strategic or technical issues, except in terms of Nadal's development (Did anybody ever try to change his radical style, we asked?).

When we opened the conversation with a broad question about his strengths and assets as a coach, it opened the floodgates on philosophy of life, rather than philosophy of tennis. And the two most striking words in Toni's first answer were "normal" and "discipline."

You'll have to wait until the January-February issue of Tennis to read the interview and some of Toni's most revealing and interesting replies to our questions. But I feel safe saying that  you'll be nothing less than astonished at the degree to which Rafael's (Toni never calls his nephew and protege "Rafa") development was more like basic training in life than an advanced education in tennis, with an emphasis on all the bells and whistles currently attached to our views of fitness, technique, nutrition and even equipment. Hail, Toni actually chose to practice on lousy courts with bad balls, just to teach young Rafael that winning or losing isn't about good balls or courts or strings or lights. It's about attitude, discipline, and perhaps most importantly, perspective.

The latter is such a signficant component precisely because perspective may be the hardest of all things to maintain once you hit a certain level in tennis - and players of far lesser talent than Nadal routinely hit that level at the age of 16, 17 - a time in young lives when the concept of perspective is about as familiar as quantum physics. If Toni Nadal has an outstanding virtue, it may be his fidelity to what you might call a grounded, normal life. He has fiercely resisted what might be called the decadence (with a small "d") that lays low so many players - and their coaches, who become accustomed to the cushy life of the tour. In this regard, it really helps Toni that he doesn't collect a paycheck from his nephew - and he knows it.

When you hear Toni speak about tennis and how he developed Nadal, you can't help but wonder how anyone could have so adamantly resisted transformation and the lure of over-complication. That resistance is beautifully reflected in Rafael's rough-hewn game, but also in his more subtle, long-standing refusal to take his place in what, at the heyday of Federer's dominance, seemed a pre-ordained hierarchy with which everyone grew comfortable.

I'm convinced that Toni's general resistance to entering the tennis mainstream and embracing the values of its somewhat warped culture was transmitted to his nephew, and helps account for the doggedness with which he pursued The Mighty Fed - acknowledging his rival's superiority at every turn but also never forgetting that his own mission was to work hard and give his best, let the chips fall where they may. He pursued Federer with remarkable determination, yet it was never about catching Federer per se.

In a sneaky way, Rafael Nadal is an outsider, and Toni is partly responsible for his nephew's ability to resist becoming just another guy content to go to work to take his cut, or getting all tangled up in conflicting feelings of respect, envy and resentment toward his great nemesis. And Toni seemingly achieved that without ever once resorting to platitudes about winning being "everything", or the value of being the no. 1 player in the world.

Toni simply doesn't talk in those terms. He talks about discipline, self-sufficiency (Toni refuses to take his nephew's rackets for stringing, on the grounds that Rafael's the one who has to play with the danged things. Besides, Rafael has all the time in the world when he's at a tournament, so why shouldn't he be the one dealing with that kind of thing?), and hard work and respect for everyone, regardless of his or her station in life. That may sound hokey, or carefully orchestrated to project a certain image for Toni or Rafael. All I can say is that we spent well over hour talking with Toni, and I've yet to meet someone whose true colors aren't revealed, in or between the lines, over a period of that length.

Toni Physically, Toni isn't nearly as imposing as he sometimes appears on television. He's thickly built and swarthy, but at times the light in his eyes is almost child-like. He's a realist, but given to speaking in parables, and his basic tone is philosophical. Talking to him, you can see where Rafael  got his talent for disarming loaded questions about his rivalry with Federer by pointing out the obvious: by number of major titles and ranking points, Roger Federer is by definition the best player in the world. Anything else is mere speculation or wishful thinking.

Toni studied history at the university level, but he's no intellectual. He laughs easily,  Here are some of the questions that I had to leave out of the published interview, due to space limitiations. So consider this just a brief glimpse into Toni Nadal, how he thinks, and the values he brings to the table for Rafael:

Q: Does Rafa ever complain about the perils and pressures of his position?

A: No, because he never complain about being no. 2. He already happy being there. I try always to explain to him, things that happen in life, everything has a positive and a negative. When you shoot a gun, it give you a kick in the shoulder, right? Same thing. There’s more pressure when you’re at the top, so that’s the kick back from being no. 1. A lot of people have it worse than him, they have to work much harder than him, for less, and they do it.

Q: What role does religion play in your life?

Zero. I don’t believe. I studied history in university. Religion comes from ignorance in people. Tribal societies, when they see a flash of lightning or something unusual, they say it come from the Magician. But when society move forward, and technology discover more, religion goes in the back. For me, is very important to be moral – to be good person. But not religion.

Q: What would Rafa be doing if he couldn’t play tennis any more?

A: I would like him to be involved in Spanish Olympic movement and committee, and to do things for other people. Doing things to improve the society. Whatever he wants. 

Q: Are you concerned, as a  human being, that Rafael is just being driven and pushed like a racehorse, and suffering in other aspects of his life, or education?

A: I was in university, but to me it’s not very important. For me, the important thing in life is to have an interest in things. I come here to learn something about American people. I like to see the television, what people are watching. To me, the thing is to be interested, maybe read newspapers. At the moment, young people not too interested in things. Is a pity. But when you spend so much time to be a good tennis player, journalist, business manager, you cannot do much else.

You always give up some things to have other things. When I go with girlfriend, I cannot be here. When Rafael is here, he loses chance to be at the beach with his friends. But when he’s at beach, he loses chance to be here. You cannot have everything. In this life, you have this -  or that. So for Rafael, he has a good life at the moment, like me, no? I am very happy to be sitting at my house at home in front of the beach and my garden, but if I am there all the time I am bored. When I speak with one of my kids (Toni has three) I think it better to be there, with them. But then I cannot be here, at US Open. it is always a choice: this – or that.

Q: You don’t wear a wedding ring?

A: I have three kids but no ring. I am not married because of my philosophy. When I have a friend, I don’t have to tell other people, “This is my friend!” I have not just one friend, and my girlfriend is my friend.

Q: Are a man like you and a youngster like Rafael comfortable, culturally, at a place like Wimbledon?

A: Well, I have a different concept of life. I believe that all these formalities are just because of where it is, and I understand it. But I like a more normal life, and I think Rafael is a more normal person.

For example, (Carlos) Moya is a very kind person, a good person, but he was here and when he need a car I see that he told his coach, “Phone for the driver.”  When you get used to doing nothing for yourself, it’s too easy. With Rafael, I say in that situation, do it yourself. It’s better. This was my work with him.

For me, at the moment it seem that young people have not too much interest in things, because everything is too easy for them. When I have a mobile phone, is easy, all the things. You want meeting with friend, boom-boom, it's done. When I was young, studying in Barcelona, when I came home I didn't know where my friends were. I had to go look for them. Today, it's easier, but people have no great interest in learning and knowing things. This is normal, but maybe not so good.

In this life, the most important things can’t control, like your health. Maybe your girlfriend, if she don’t want to go with you no more, then you have a problem. You must be prepared for this. When things go good, I want this, I have, I want that, I have - but then you are not prepared for when things go bad. I always try to prepare Rafael for everything.

Q: Many guys out there have five cars, three houses, even a share in  a jet. What does Rafa own?

A: At the moment, Rafael have nothing. He has not house, because his parents have money and some good houses. He has some cars - one from a sponsor (KIA), one Mercedes he win in Stuttgart. But personally for me is no is no good that young man have a good car. I don’t like to see a young people have things like that.

What do you do together, hobby-wise?

A: Rafael like fishing very much. Together, we like soccer and golf. We play golf together with another brother of mine (Miguel Angel Nadal, the former pro soccer star).

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.
1 2 3 4 5      >>

Posted by uncle sam 10/21/2008 at 02:43 PM

uncle sam is better than uncle tony

Posted by Maedel 10/21/2008 at 03:02 PM


Thank you for the article on Tio Toni, and also for identifying the issue of Tennis in which the interview will appear.

A year or two, when Rafa was in one of his his second-semester slump, I remember thinking that he needed to change coaches--someone who could help him manage his season better, or play differently on hard courts, or something...!

Since then, with your article and others I have read about him and his relationship with Rafael, I have come to realize that Tio Toni is the best possible kind of mentor for Rafael and anyone else who wishes to learn how to lead a genuine life. I think genuineness is one of the most appealing aspects of Rafael's character.

Posted by beth 10/21/2008 at 03:04 PM

Pete - what an interesting man this Tio Toni is
I like the work ethic he has helped to instill in Rafa
I really do believe that is what makes him the champion that he is
and a very pleasant young man , too

Posted by jb (Go Smiley Fed!!) 10/21/2008 at 03:04 PM

ok - i never expected to say this - but i think i heart uncle toni.... though it shouldn't surprise me, as i think he's managed to help make rafa into a very grounded human, which should stand him in good stead when he's out of the limelite.

Sensible man. Sensible nephew.

Nice post Pete.

Posted by Andrew Miller 10/21/2008 at 03:11 PM

Can't say uncle toni is right or wrong, he just is, no explanation, no apologies, and no excuses.

Interesting subject. Many ways to be at the top. Federer has a way, Nadal does, Murray does.

Posted by C Note 10/21/2008 at 03:12 PM

Loved this! Thanks, Pete! Can't wait to see the full interview.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 10/21/2008 at 03:16 PM

Miguel Angel never played for Real Madrid. Barca, Mallorca, and the national team.

Glad he's not religious. Wonder how widespread that philosophy is in the Nadal family.

Interesting piece. I eagerly anticipate reading the magazine article.

Posted by rafanadal101 10/21/2008 at 03:17 PM

Thanks for the article Pete!

Posted by Andrew Friedman (aka Rolo Tomassi) 10/21/2008 at 03:20 PM

Pete - Wow, that was fascinating. Gotta love the philosopher in Toni, and all that stuff about making Rafa book his own cars and take his own rackets to the stringer is priceless. Can't wait to read the rest in the magazine.

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 03:22 PM

Interesting post Pete;

Not sure what to make of it really. Though I get the distinct impression now, more than ever, that Nadal is a sort of "child-man." What do you mean Toni doesn't collect a check from Rafael? He's not doing this for free is he? No cut of the winnings at all?

I look forward to the full interview.

Posted by adicecream 10/21/2008 at 03:23 PM

It's enlightening to get this behind the scenes look at one of the main reasons Rafa is Rafa. If he follows Uncle Toni's advice he will be much more than a tennis player one day.

Posted by Vanessa 10/21/2008 at 03:23 PM

Very interesting article. As I read Toni's answers to your questions I could clearly see how much influence he's had on Rafa. I think that this 'normal', grounded attitude was one of the first things that caught my attention about Nadal. It makes me think about so many past and present extremely talented players whose career's ended too soon and without fanfare perhaps for not having someone like Uncle Toni in their lives

Posted by aussiemarg {rafa no 1 player,long may you reign} 10/21/2008 at 03:32 PM

thanks for the little tid bits on Uncle Toni,cant wait to read full interview,Uncle Toni,keeps everthing simple and honest,a true visionary in every sense of the word,vamos to you Sir!

Posted by Toni Childs 10/21/2008 at 03:33 PM

Wow!! These are the questions you left out Pete???!!! The interview must be great! I can't wait to read it!!! I love his life philosophy, although i don't agree about the religion part of it, but we are all entitled to our opinion. Now i better understand why Rafa is the humble, driven and beautiful soul that he is. Long live the king!

Posted by naughty T..creating Zen space 10/21/2008 at 03:51 PM

Nice man. Good ideas. Shame he did not stop the butt picking. lol.
seriously, look forward to reading the rest of that interview.

Posted by Jenn 10/21/2008 at 03:55 PM

I cannot wait for the full article! My reaction to this interview and to Uncle Toni and Rafa's attitude in general is "how refreshing." The sports world, including tennis, is overloaded with huge egos and entitlement mentality and a lot of other trappings that go with the enormous money and fame. I have always been drawn to Rafa as a fan in large part because he seems so earnest and sincere in his tennis and just the way he conducts himself, and obviously Uncle Toni has played a big role in that.

Pete, if it would not be giving anything away from the upcoming article, I wonder if you can explain anything more about the financial arrangment. I was surprised to find that Rafa does not pay Uncle Toni. Maybe it would be strange to pay a family member, but at the same time Toni must not be able to do much else with his life professionally given the time devoted to Rafa, so how does he earn a living?

I also have noticed that he does not typically sit with any member of his family during matches (who can forget him running over to Rafa's parents before the 4th match point at Wimbledon). Is that because he likes to keep professional and personal separate? Maybe its not significant, but I always wondered about it.

Posted by marie j vamos rafa numero 1 ! 10/21/2008 at 04:00 PM

hi pete...
i knew you would find toni special :)
his low profile attitude in every aspect of life is not very common, specially when you train a top ranked athlete...
rafa has learn how to deal with tennis just the same way of how you need to deal with life... toni is surely a good teacher :)
i really like rafa's caracter, but not everything comes from toni, rafa's mum was very proud to be responsible of how is rafa off the court, because on court attitude corresponds to uncle toni.

being a very close family who probably shares many values in comon, surely has helped.

Posted by Pete 10/21/2008 at 04:01 PM

Syd, Jenn, don't know about his seating arrangements, but the money issue is simple: Toni is a business partner of Rafa's father, and their business has done well enough so that Sebastian runs it, while Toni spends all of his time with Rafa but lives off his investment in the family business.

msf - thanks for catching that error, it's fixed now. . .

Posted by Kiwi 10/21/2008 at 04:02 PM

Can't wait to read the rest of it, he seems very honest and straight forward, quite refreshing. Perhaps Rafa will last longer than some think? Strange though that he was made to practise on all the bad courts ect. yet seems to have all those superstitions with the water bottles and things?? I would've thought that sort of upbringing would've taken away any ritual like requirements?!

Posted by Vamos R 10/21/2008 at 04:13 PM

Tony does it for Free

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 04:24 PM


Thanks much. Mediterrean family style. Nice. :)

Posted by lightforce101 10/21/2008 at 04:30 PM

I'm a big fan of Rafa. And it is commendable of tio toni the way he mentors his nephew. I'm just disappointed about his religious views and views on marriage. Hope Rafa does not hold the
same belief. Well, I guess to each his own. AMDG

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 04:31 PM

Naughty T makes a good point.

Posted by hayo 10/21/2008 at 04:34 PM

Thank you Pete. I've always had tremendous respect for tio Toni. And I feel he is the one who can keep Rafael humble and hungry. I wish their mentor-pupil relationship between Toni and Rafael would last.

Posted by Ogolon 10/21/2008 at 04:37 PM

100% Mallorcan, that´s Toni

Posted by GVGirl- back from Central America 10/21/2008 at 04:38 PM

Very interesting. Can't wait for the full interview. I was quite surprised about his view on religion, no wonder he isn't married.

I think it's great that he does not "spoil" Rafa, too many of these players are "divas."

Posted by ptenisnet 10/21/2008 at 04:41 PM

Toni sounds like the Mr. Miyagi of tennis.
In fact, here's crane technique.

Posted by Jenn 10/21/2008 at 04:47 PM

Thanks, Pete. What a great arrangment for everyone.
I wonder what Rafa does with all his money... sounds like he is not buying anything or paying for coaching, and he lives with his family. Great savings plan!

Posted by Pspace 10/21/2008 at 04:48 PM

Wow! Tio Tony seems like a really cool guy. Hat tip to him. I believe that the sign of a good education is an application to other areas in life. And, in that sense, he is an educated man, and a bit of a philosopher/intellectual. Hopefully, the rest of the interview has more on his tennis brain, which I'm really curious about. Thanks, Pete.

Posted by tina 10/21/2008 at 04:49 PM

Mediterranean Roman Catholic countries have become increasingly secular, and it's healthy that he can be so open about his own viewpoint. To be honest, I find it more troubling when any champion thanks god - that has included Chang and both Williams sisters, much as I love them.

Looking forward to the article - thanks Pete, for the teaser!

Posted by Pspace 10/21/2008 at 04:50 PM

ptenisnet, Perfect!

Posted by Carrie 10/21/2008 at 04:52 PM

Jenn- I know Rafa does have a foundation- but don't know the amount of money that is put into it.

Savings can be a great thing! He definately is not spending it on off court attire since he often has imo the dress sense of am 11 year old (i.e. no clue) and is prone to repeating shirts and jackets.

Great snippet Pete- and look forward to the whole shebang.

Posted by Vie 10/21/2008 at 04:55 PM

I think that exchange arrangement is suitable and simply tasteful and esoteric. It suits their sensibilities and interests. Three of them have good careers and economics with equal contribution and satisfaction.

Thanks Pete for this post about Uncle Toni and the backgrounder on other coaches.

Posted by tina 10/21/2008 at 04:56 PM

p.s. I would love to have heard Bob Brett's entire sermon on towels

Posted by Fexpress 10/21/2008 at 04:58 PM

I really dont like this guy, "Tio Tony", there's something dark about him that i cant completely explain...its just i don't like him, dont really know why...but its the kind of person that i wouldnt like around me, that's all

Posted by Carrie 10/21/2008 at 05:03 PM

Fexperss- have you ever met Toni and if so- was it an unpleasant experience? If so, how?

Posted by ptenisnet 10/21/2008 at 05:04 PM

Given the nature of their relationship, do you think Toni would be a good coach for anyone else?

Posted by Sher 10/21/2008 at 05:05 PM

This is very cool! Thanks Pete, I'm looking forward to the whole thing in the magazine. I also really liked finding out that Tony is not religious -- I wonder if Rafa is; if I had to guess, I wouldn't think he is.

Posted by Gerry 10/21/2008 at 05:09 PM

It's interesting that you asked about religion as was Toni's response and the reactions of those responding in the comments. If Rafa's humility, treatment of others, and work ethic aren't high up on the list of personal characteristics that would be promoted by any religion, I don't know what would be. If the Nadals are what they are without concern for how they will be judged by God or whatever else helps to keep the religious on the right track it is all the more impressive. I was disappointed that Toni says that the university is not all that important--someone has to go beyond just being interested in what people watch on TV and study science, etc.--but I sense that he and Rafa have a sense of the absurdity of life, and certainly of pro tennis. I mean how can you justify dedicating an intelligent kid's youth to tennis unless you figure that it is a means by which he can learn about his own inner strength, learn to deal with others, and lead to even bigger and better accomplishments later in life

Posted by love40 10/21/2008 at 05:10 PM

oh how refreshing. That man (Toni)should be our president. formal education, the rituals of religion and the symbols of marriage are simply cultural opium. "One should take an interest in things." "help other people." "Young people don't need such nice things." I like that family. Great article.

Posted by Pete 10/21/2008 at 05:11 PM

Ptenisnet - I think not; give what else is in the interview, it's pretty clear to me that the family connection is critical here. But keep in mind that Toni WAS the coach of some pretty high-quality players.Also, I regret that el jon and I didn't really try to pin him down on some X's and O's.I mean, he's got to know that stuff, right? but he has absolutely no inclination to want to discuss it - which goes back to what I wrote about Mac and Mats yesterday, and cutting to the chase. More and more, I believe it's just not about th X's and O's (unless all other things are equal). . .

Posted by Vanessa 10/21/2008 at 05:15 PM

I have seen Rafa very smartly dressed if the occasion demands it (I have been to his home town a couple of times and see him up close) But he is 22 years old after all and he looks quite good in jeans and t-shirts. I don't know maybe you're a cardigan loving Federer Fan? lol.. just pulling your leg

Posted by Carrie 10/21/2008 at 05:18 PM

Pete- do you think part of Toni's reticence in terms of discussing strategy could be that they don't want to reveal the game plan before the game? It would be nice to hear some more of his thoughts about the Xs and Os. I don't buy into the sometimes perception that Rafa just goes out there and runs without any strategy so would like to hear more of Toni's thoughts on the matter.

Toni is the only one of his brothers who is not married, correct?

Posted by ptenisnet 10/21/2008 at 05:21 PM

Thanks Pete
That's the impression I had, given everything I've heard about the way they operate.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 10/21/2008 at 05:21 PM

Regarding the value of a university education, perhaps if we could find samuel clemens and ben franklin, we could ask them how well they were served by theirs.

Oh sorry, they didn't have one.

Whereas, the U.S. is spending billions, if not trillions, on higher education annually and we get:


trillions wasted on idiotic foreign military misadventures

a chimp for President

etc., etc.

Regarding religion, centuries of Roman Catholic barbarity would certainly turn many Spaniards against that country's religion numero uno.

And as far as religion in the U.S., this country supposedly is one of the most religious in the world.

And look where that has gotten us.

Posted by Carrie 10/21/2008 at 05:23 PM

Vanessa- thanks for the insight on Rafa's clothing- hee hee. I actually really like how he looks in tshirts and polos- and agree there is no need for him to always be fancy schmancy. But sometimes I have noticed the repition of certain striped shirts and ill-fitting jackets- but yeah he is just 22. I find it rather cute that he can be imo sometimes clueless in the fancier attire- but that is also part of age. I am a shallow person so these things can interest me. ;)

Posted by bluesunflower 10/21/2008 at 05:23 PM

Thank you for this article. I cant read enough about Rafa and this sort of background story beautifully written seeming to get to the heart of the man is brilliantly written. Tio Toni seems to be a very grounded pragmatic person.

The first time I came across Rafa was when he burst onto the scene at 2003 Wimbledon beating Mario Ancic in the fist round. His uncle was being interviwed before his 3rd round match. British interest in him was high as he d beaten local hope in the 2nd round. I remember disntictly Rafa sitting beside his uncle, all youthful exuberance and innocence not speaking a word of English, whilst his uncle played down his chances saying he would most probably loose. Nadal duly lost in the 3rd round. But I remember at the time thinking how balanced and realistic and calm his Uncle Toni was. You dont get the feeling that Rafa is being pushed against his will to compete. You can feel the the genuine affection love and respect between them.

Posted by sblily (only 14 days to go. . .) 10/21/2008 at 05:26 PM

Really enjoyed this piece, Pete, and can't wait for the full article.

*drools at thought of what Safin and Nalby could have achieved with an "Uncle Toni" in their boxes*

Aw, hell, I'm drooling at the thought of what =I= could do in my life with an "Uncle Toni" backing me up!

Posted by Gerry 10/21/2008 at 05:27 PM

I bet the engineers who designed Rafa's racket had some higher education, but I know where Toni's coming from. It's easy to dismiss education, but when people bring their children to me for an operation they seem to be pretty interested in what kind of training I have in surgery.

Posted by linex 10/21/2008 at 05:27 PM

Well very interesting article on Toni but if all the money Rafa is earning is not being invested in properties ... or is under no one´s behalf. I say Rafa pls wiretransfer me a very small percentage of all that money that I will find good use for it ... at least I would use it to attend the Davis Cup final and see you play.

But well getting more serious, it is obvious that this lessons of life and discipline had an excellent effect on Nadal and made him the great champion and human being that he is.

Charly was not placed under good light there by Tony ...Poor Lobito Moya´s coach who has to perform as his secretary.

Posted by Andy C 10/21/2008 at 05:51 PM

Very interesting! Thanks, too, for the clarification of Jenn's question above. I wondered how Toni payed the bills. Sounds like a very appealing guy, a mild-mannered radical. I look forward to learning more.

Posted by Bismar(in)c[ilic]k 10/21/2008 at 05:55 PM

this glimpse into the interview was very interesting, Pete.
thanks for that one, was a fascinating read.

Posted by Vanessa 10/21/2008 at 05:57 PM

I am sure you're not shallow! I follow fashion and I don't think I am shallow (erm, maybe other people think so.. lol)
But I know what you mean exactly and I believe it's all part of his upbringing and what his uncle toni calls 'normal'. I don't think clothing is something that he pays particular attention to.

Posted by Sherlock 10/21/2008 at 06:04 PM

Gerry, thank you. :)

Posted by Sherlock 10/21/2008 at 06:06 PM

Loved the article, Pete. Fascinating stuff.

An interesting angle to me is what sblily brought up too. Where would guys like Safin and Nalby be? Hmmm.

Posted by marie j vamos rafa numero 1 ! 10/21/2008 at 06:19 PM

about toni's religion position, i have to say it's quite unusual among his country men... most men marry and at church, and specially for a men living in a small town like manacor, the weight of religion tradition is very strong, you just need a strong mind and belief to go against... and of course to have an open minded family to accept you just the way you are.

as for the money thing, i think it's important to keep the relationship free of the money link. the money earn by rafa belongs to all of them regardless of who does someting more or something less.

i hope rafa studies something related to sport and keeps himself involved in it after he's done with tennis... i'm pretty sure he won't be a oisive kind of guy enjoying only golf and fishing the rest of his life.

Posted by vetmama 10/21/2008 at 06:31 PM

"I was disappointed that Toni says that the university is not all that important--someone has to go beyond just being interested in what people watch on TV and study science, etc"

Gerry, I think Toni is saying that, even though Rafa chose tennis over going to university, he can still educate himself if he makes learning a life goal. If Rafa keeps his eyes open and stays interested in the world, he can learn most things that are taught in school.

My grandfather was a completely self-taught engineer. Not one iota of education after high school.
He had a keen interest in everything and possessed a sharp, inquiring mind. He amassed a library of books (unnecessary in this day of the internet) from which he learned physics, art history, literature, etc.

Myself, I attended university for 11 years and have 3 degrees. But my interest in learning new things is my best attribute, and there is no college degree for that. Over the years, I have continued to teach myself in areas that weren't covered in all those years of college.

I agree with Toni wholeheartedly.

Posted by vetmama 10/21/2008 at 06:42 PM

I also find an interesting parallel here between Tio Toni and Peter Carter.

From what I've read, Peter Carter was a mentor to Federer in a similar way. He didn't just see himself as a tennis instructor, but also acted as a role model, focusing on Roger's character as well as his game. Roger has cited him as one of the main influences in his life, saying Carter helped make him the man he is today.

And the result? We have, at the pinnacle, two of the best gentlemen in the history of our game.

Posted by crazyone 10/21/2008 at 06:58 PM

very interesting read, thanks for the interview Pete. That Tio's worked hard to keep Rafa grounded shouldn't surprise anyone who follows them...I was a bit surprised by his views on marriage/religion just because I thought of Majorca as being a more conservative place. But I'm a big proponent of the idea, which seems entirely logical to me but some others have a hard time accepting, that one can be a good, moral person without having a religious belief system imposing morality from above...that doesn't mean I think religion is useless but simply that one can be moral without having any religion. I'm glad to see that Uncle Toni expound that philosophy as well...

But this general Rafa-Toni model, and even the "young men shouldn't spend" model, only applies if one has a genius sporting uncle in the family and if one comes from a very well-off family to begin with. Between having a tennis coach in the family and being generally well off, raising a son to tennis glory wasn't the struggle/gamble for the Nadals that it was for several other families...when people gamble on something and win they tend to want to reap the the benefits of that winning gamble immediately. If the Nadals had thrown in their entire life savings and moved to a different country to help their son become a great tennis player I doubt they'd be this grounded when it came to the rewards...but even then many (most?) families in their situation wouldn't be that grounded either.

Posted by Gerry 10/21/2008 at 07:09 PM

I absolutely agree that getting a college degree means nothing in and of itself--except that it can get you into certain job interviews. As a previous poster alluded--look at George Bush. But for some of those without the motivation and genius of your grandfather the "university" can at least supply tools to help the motivated go even further. The problem I see in the US is that education, either formal or self-directed, is being tagged as "elite" by some. This is just hypocritical because I think that most people would feel better if the engineer who designed the bridge they are driving on or the scientist who tested their drinking water, or, yes, their president, had some formal education that they actually paid attention to. Maybe Toni doesn't need the university to teach him history because he's an independent learner, but lots of kids aren't and do need someone to teach them history so that they aren't doomed to re-live it, as the saying goes.

Posted by manuelsantanafan 10/21/2008 at 07:10 PM

Higher education can be highly overrated as demonstrated by President Bush, but a lot of what one gets from it depends on what one puts into it. Duh.

Attended a book fair recently at which the 87-year old Ray Bradbury spoke. (He has since turned 88.) Bradbury, who continues to display an inspirational joi de vivre, spoke disparagingly of formal education in general. However, he had much good to say about libraries.

Ben Franklin, as I noted above, never attended a university. Yet he is one of the most acclaimed Americans, right up there with Britney and Madonna.

One source of Franklin's acclaim was his Poor Richard's Almanack, which contained many maxims/aphorisms, many of which are still widely known.

I doubt Franklin originated all of these pearls of wisdom, but packaging them into one book still merits praise.

Just the other day, on another thread, we were discussing a Spanish aphorism Rafa had uttered b4 the press: "Mal de muchos, consuelo de tontos." Which roughly means: "The misfortune of many is the consolation of dumbarses."

I doubt that this is a Rafa original. Nevertheless, using a public forum to share a Spanish saying could indicate that Rafa is ready to start taking the necessary steps to become the Ben Franklin of tennis. University education or not, that's not a bad thing.

Posted by sblily (WWUTD/only 14 days to go. . .) 10/21/2008 at 07:13 PM

Crazyone - interesting observation about the tie between being financially comfortable and grounded. Now you've got me racking my brain to think of a player with a Rafa mentality and a Sharapova rags-to-riches story. Hmmm . . .

Posted by Sherlock 10/21/2008 at 07:23 PM

I love how President Bush is now the first example given of highly overrated higher education. :)

Please Pete, don't do the political thread.

Posted by vetmama 10/21/2008 at 07:25 PM

"If the Nadals had thrown in their entire life savings and moved to a different country to help their son become a great tennis player I doubt they'd be this grounded when it came to the rewards"

I agree, crazyone, but that doesn't mean a family that starts out poor *shouldn't* be this grounded. Rafa will probably live a happier life overall because of his upbringing.

I also agree it's great to see someone with strong values outside of a religious framework. This idea is extremely important to me as well.

Posted by crazyone 10/21/2008 at 07:37 PM

well, vetmama, I don't necessarily think it's necessary to be as grounded as the Nadals are...a young man owning a car is not a travesty to's all a matter of degree. in fact, another thing that kind of facilitates this kind of groundedness is the kind of warm, close-knit family structure, that again, other players (and many people in general) don't have. (Though I find it refreshing again that this close-knit family structure isn't accompanied by stifling traditional morality, but that's an aside). So I don't think it's a travesty if poor families (or even richer ones) don't produce players who are *this* grounded--just saying that certain circumstances are more likely to produce one outcome rather than another.

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 08:05 PM

Read the piece over again.

There's something about Uncle Toni that gives off a whiff of the puppeteer. I've always had that vague feeling about the pair--as if Toni is sitting in the box and pulling the strings. I know this is unfair, but still, that's the notion I have. The goal of the teacher is to mentor and impart knowledge to the point at which the pupil is able to fly free and eventually surpass the master. Federer has fully realized this ambition, as have many others. Just seems to me that perhaps Nadal is champing at the bit a little bit, longing to fly solo. Or, maybe I'm dead wrong.

Posted by Maplesugar (at home) 10/21/2008 at 08:12 PM

I once heard a story that Rafa, already a millionaire many times over, asked his parents if he could buy a laptop. I was so impressed with that...and continue to be impressed with the no frills aspect of Uncle Toni's tutelage. Someone said it refreshing.

How surprising that Uncle Toni receives no monetary compensation from Rafa...and that he is not married, not religious, but has three kids. I would like to learn more about "his philosophy." Anyway, this is a nice appetizer to the bigger story, and I'll look forward to reading that.

Thanks for the scoop, Pete!

Posted by Sherlock 10/21/2008 at 08:19 PM

Maplesugar, do you know how old that story is? Just curious.

Unless this was many years ago, if he's asking his parents to buy a laptop, that strikes me as a bit odd. I like no frills too, but at some point, let him go and see what the kid has learned. :)

Posted by sblily (WWUTD/only 14 days to go. . .) 10/21/2008 at 08:25 PM

Syd, you just completely creeped me out with the puppeteer reference (anyone who has watched "Heroes" over the past couple of weeks will understand why). *shudders*

Posted by tina 10/21/2008 at 08:25 PM

Toni has complete control over his "racehorse", it seems. Very creepy - he may as well be Jim Pierce.

Posted by Maplesugar (at home) 10/21/2008 at 08:26 PM was at the beginning of his career,not recently.
Yeah, I know what you mean.

BTW, does Rafa have a new girlfriend?

Posted by Maplesugar (at home) 10/21/2008 at 08:29 PM

Sherlock, admittedly that story was at the start of Rafa's career--not recently...but, at the time, I still thought it was pretty unusual, but in a really nice way.

Posted by Maplesugar (at home) 10/21/2008 at 08:30 PM

Sorry for the double answer...I didn't think my first response was posted. It took longer than usual.

Posted by Sherlock 10/21/2008 at 08:39 PM

Oh, ok. Thanks, Maplesugar. I am ok with that then. If he was my son, I'd be badgering him constanly about money issues. :)

Posted by green1 10/21/2008 at 09:02 PM

Nadal's father owns some sort of glass company and Uncle Toni is paid with a part of this company which I believe R. Nadal invests in. Anyone that thinks this man is not getting paid (he does have 3 children) is very naive.

Posted by Tony 10/21/2008 at 09:06 PM

I like everything about the interview, except one thing: Tio Tony's rather conventional, unoriginal, and rather boring views about religion. He sounds rather self-centered in that sense. I wonder whether Rafa shares the same views on religion as his Uncle?

Posted by CL 10/21/2008 at 09:12 PM

Pete - I'm sure you are not still reading this, but this piece was truly fascinating. I got two points... first, the way you have it phrased, "...but he's no intellectual. He laughs easily," is kind of, um, unfortunate. I'm SURE you do not want to be one of those casting aspersions on elite aspirations..including university.

But even more so...what on earth...or heaven... made you ask Uncle Toni about religion?? Do you ask all your tennis interviews that question? Not that I am complaining, really. Because I found Toni's response fascinating...and in this day and age...very courageous.

Posted by naughty T..creating Zen space 10/21/2008 at 09:17 PM

my lord. Tio Toni is obviously a nice bloke but this is all getting a bit schmalzy. He is going to be up for sainthood by the end of this.
Hopefully Rafa is making a few decisions about laptops on his own now and perhaps thinking of going up a size in the undies department.
Holding on to a child too long is also a bit like abuse, no?

Posted by Matt Zemek 10/21/2008 at 09:29 PM



That is one amazing "left-on-the-cutting-room-floor" portion of a made-for-magazine interview relegated to a blog post.

Just a mother lode of revelation from a fascinating and immensely successful tennis teacher.

Thank you!

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 09:31 PM

Well, Saint or Sinner, I like his views on religion--at least they are not thinking that God had a hand in it every time Nadal wins a match—unlike some others, whose names are better left unsaid.

Posted by Oases Oarfell 10/21/2008 at 09:34 PM

OMG!!! I'm soooooooooo happy that Uncle Toni had a son like Rafa. Except I disagree with those who say he should be president-- he should be God! Imagine if every adult was like Uncle Toni, there would be no bullies, and no one would say anything mean about Rafa!

Posted by cmac 10/21/2008 at 09:40 PM

I have read things in the past that have made me think that Toni has been too harsh with Rafa at times. (Similar to how upset I got with the things I read about David Ferrer's coach locking him in a storage room once.) At 22, I think Rafa has become his own man and questions some of Toni's beliefs. On the other hand, I think that Rafa incorporated a lot of Toni's teachings into his own value system and it's part of what sets him apart from the other spoiled and sometimes lazy athletes who believe their own PR.

Posted by Sherlock 10/21/2008 at 09:43 PM

God didn't have a hand in Nadal's wins?

Are you saying that God had a hand in his losses? How do you know this, Syd? Spill the beans. :)

Posted by 10/21/2008 at 09:49 PM

Pete...Thanks for the post...I concur with other posters...can't wait for the entire article. As a mental health practitioner, I have always been interested in the psychology of sport and appreciate Toni's philosophical approach. My fascination with the mental aspect of sport is part (not all) of my interest in Rafa. He is truly one of those athletes who has the mental tenacity that contributes to his overall performance. While other posters intelligently discuss the physical aspects of the game (I am truly impressed with the knowledge here!), I often watch matches and other sporting events from inside the head of the participant(s). Nice job Pete!

Posted by rudy3 (electricity is for wimps) 10/21/2008 at 09:51 PM

Thanks Pete for sharing this piece, its fascinating.

About the Rafa/laptop story...this was in 05, and his parents were asked if he had splurged on anything with his winnings, and his mom said he bought a fancy laptop.
It was the same article that she talked about his schooling. And how, at 16 he was schooling on the road. And that she was always having to buy textbooks, because he was constantly leaving them in hotel rooms all over the world.

I still laugh at that.

Posted by rafadoc 10/21/2008 at 09:52 PM

I swear I am signed in...that is me@9:49..

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 09:56 PM

Sherlock: :)

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 10:03 PM

Wonder why Toni had to bring Carlos Moya and his car ordering habits into this? Whereas the Nadals, why they are living a pure and spartan existence on the beach, with their beach houses and boats, and....oh, never mind.

Posted by Rosangel 10/21/2008 at 10:03 PM

naughty T: abuse? Have you not notived that Toni is not always there when Rafa plays? He has a second coach, Francisco Roig, who travels with him when Toni is spending time at home. From what I've seen, it's very much Rafa's preference that his uncle continue to coach him, but Toni does try to balance out his time with his family as well, so isn't always prepared to travel. Plus he's expressed the view that Rafa should have the opportunity to find his own way, without a family meber.

Pete: thank you very much for this. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I've just been reading your Davydenko interview in Tennis, and am looking forward to something similarly enlightening when the full interview comes out.

In Madrid, I always knew when it was Toni yelling for his nephew during a match, because he always shouts "Vamos Rafael!" .

As for the view on morality without religion - I couldn't agree more. I can't see why that should be a problematic concept, given the overriding importance of relationships and trust in human society. I also agree with the view on formal education - which isn't the same thing as having a lifelong attitude to be always learning.

I've seen Toni close up enough times at tournaments to agree that he isn't as physically imposing as he can appear on TV. And my overwhelming impression upon arriving at the tournament in Barcelona this year was that I got out of the taxi, and the first thing I spotted was Toni Nadal on the pavement outside the club, signing autographs for children. At other times, I have just seen him walking around, looking businesslike, and unmolested.

I always got the impression that being the "first nephew" was quite important in Rafa's development, because I believe his cousins are all younger. If you add to that the fact that the brothers' families live under the same roof, albeit in different apartments, it makes for some very interesting family relationships.

Posted by Russ 10/21/2008 at 10:05 PM

"Religion comes from ignorance". As a person of faith, that kind of public statement from a sports figure hits a nerve.

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 10:07 PM

Russ; but you do agree, don't you, that he has a perfect right to say it?

Posted by rafadoc 10/21/2008 at 10:07 PM

btw...I just have to say that picture above of Toni and Rafa has always bothered me...this may be a "girly" or "motherly" thing but I wish Toni was hugging Rafa back...just bugs me...okay, now I am (maybe?) over it.

Posted by Russ 10/21/2008 at 10:15 PM

Syd: He can say whatever he wants. If *he* is not religious, and he says he is not, I would take no issue with it. But to characterize people who do follow a system of religious beliefs as "ignorant" is offensive to me.

Posted by Matt Zemek 10/21/2008 at 10:27 PM

I recognize and appreciate the wisdom found in Toni Nadal's views on religion and morality, which represented the most fascinating element of a deliciously revealing interview.

What I regret about Toni's views is not an anti-religion animus (EXPLANATION OF ABOVE REMARK: I don't find an anti-religion view to be in existence here; Toni is expressing an honest personal view and is being anything but mean or uncharitable--he's speaking from the grounded place he occupies, and which he's productively shared with Rafael), but the fact that his statements point to religion's loss of credibility and beauty in the eyes of so many people (particularly, but not exclusively, in Europe).

I have seen religion lose its sense of weight, importance and daily significance in Seattle, and in American life as a whole.

Catholics are rapidly becoming ex-Catholics in America. If not for Latino immigrants, American Catholic membership would have been roughly cut in half as a measure of the percentage of all American adults.

Catholics, several years ago, comprised 31 percent of all American adults. Now, just under 24 percent, with immigrants being thought to represent somehwere from 7-10 percent of the current Catholic population in America.

The category that grew the most among American adults in the past several years? The "Unaffiliated" category, up to 16 percent from 7 (maybe 8) percent. The growth among the "unaffiliated" is roughly equal to the decline in Catholicism, but Catholicism's losses would have been far greater without the immigrant influx.

Religion does cause so much evil, hate, hurt, and division. Yet, at its best, it has inspired so much good.

I can't blame Toni for having his views. Religion plainly is doing so much to destroy the planet right now, and I agree with the many statements made here by Syd, Crazyone, and others who have evidently a somewhat progressive sensibility that has been offended by the Religious Right.

Nevertheless, I will say that the way to a better world is not for religion to go away; the best hope for humanity is to rediscover religion at its simple and beautiful essence.

May this rich discussion continue. I welcome any and all private e-mails, given that this topic is sensitive and might be viewed as something too emotional or painful for many people to discuss in a public blog forum.

(I haven't had the chance to have a good ol' fashioned discussion about religion with anyone outside my family in a long time...)

Back to regular programming... I'm still marveling at the richness of Toni's insights.

Posted by Syd 10/21/2008 at 10:28 PM


Yes, I see your point. It is the labeling of groups of people that both nonbelievers and believers would do well to steer clear of. But, I think in this case, language may be an issue.

Posted by CL 10/21/2008 at 10:38 PM

Syd @10:03. lol.

Posted by The tennis ghost 10/21/2008 at 10:45 PM

Thanks for the article, Pete. It's a great read.

Hey, Rosangel; did you get my email??

Some people take the religious belief too seriously. I found nothing wrong with what Toni said. God doesn't make you or me a good person. We are responsible for what we are and what we do regardless of our belief.

Posted by Russ 10/21/2008 at 10:47 PM

Syd: My last words on the topic. I can't chalk that up to the language barrier. He quite clearly and succinctly explains his views of people who have faith and the role of religion in society. It's been espoused before by many, and certainly has some merit. But until science has all the answers, some of us rely on faith to get us through the day ;)

Posted by Tari 10/21/2008 at 10:47 PM

Thanks for that, Russ. I really don't care what Toni believes, to be honest, but I'm not going to celebrate, or call "courageous" his calling me ignorant.

Nice piece though, Pete. Very interesting and insightful.

Posted by malimeda 10/21/2008 at 10:48 PM

Being able to read Spanish, French and German press on Rafa (and not only online), I'm already somewhat acquainted with Tio Toni's weltanschaung and its impact on Rafa, so it's nice to read this here. English-speaking media are yet to tap into all that.

Looking forward to the whole interview and to being able to compare/contrast it with the excellent 10-page in-depth illustrated article "Rafa en son ile" (Rafa on his island) from the June 2008 edition of the French magazine L'Equipe (unfortunately, there's only hardcopy, not online version).

It was NOT an interview with Rafa, but with 3 people who jointly formed him as a player: Toni, Jofre Porta (his "parallel" coach while attending the local sports school since he was 10 until he turned pro) and Joan Forcades (his conditioning trainer for almost 10 years now). All 3 men are 48 years old, all live on Mallorca, all are something of offbeat homemade "philosphers" who stress "not the goal but the path", "everything is complementary" approach and not the extreme pressure tennis-academy-style target drilling as paramount. All simply say their job is just fine-tuning Rafa's exceptional genetics. They explain the job is made that much easier by strong family equilibrium and experience of already having a real sport star in the family - other uncle Miguel Angel, ex futbolista, who came through the whole circle of fame and taught Rafa by example that fame is not who you are.

Besides, the Mallorca natives tend to be like the proverbial Scots - they are generally frugal folks. Also, mostly are quiet types, not ostentatious. If rich, they do not flaunt it.

The French reporters roamed Mallorca, sniffed the air, tasted the atmosphere, spoke to 3 Rafa gurus and watched Rafa move around his island. All this helped them to pen a great article.

Hope that by talking only to Tio Toni here and without the benefit of actually seeing things firsthand the whole picture does not come out a bit simplified and a bit distorted. Judging by the Q&A quoted above, it should not be the case.

As answered by Rafa himself in his Wimbly blog, Papa Sebastian invests Rafa's money in real estate.

1 2 3 4 5      >>

We are no longer accepting comments for this entry.

<<  Your Call, 10.22 Your Call, 10.21  >>

Wild Women of the U.S. Open
Wild Men of the U.S. Open
Roddick's Imperfect World
"It's Kind of a Dance"
Nadal's Kneeds
The Racquet Scientist: Canadian Tennis
The Long and Short of It
This blog has 3693 entries and 1646148 comments.
More Video
Daily Spin