Tuesday, January 19, 2016

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Toni Nadal says Rafa has "no choice" but to make changes to his game

 Photo credit: Reem Abulleil

Not many coaches would want to sit courtside and watch their charge battle through a brutal five-hour match but Toni Nadal has no problem reliving his pupil Rafael Nadal’s epic five-set win over Fernando Verdasco in the 2009 Australian Open semi-finals, as long as it spells victory for his nephew.

Spanish duo, Nadal and Verdasco, square off in the Australian Open first round on Tuesday on Rod Laver Arena in a rematch of their marathon in Melbourne from seven years ago – which was one of the most memorable grand slam clashes in modern times.

“I can sign 6-4 in the fifth and winning? I sign,” Toni said ahead of Tuesday’s showdown.

“Winning, always I sign. But I expect a different match (than in 2009). Verdasco is not the same, Rafael in 2009 was No1, now we are No5, I expect a difficult match.

“It’s never easy to play against Verdasco. He was a very good player and still now he has the possibility to be a very good player. It will be difficult for us and I hope it will be difficult for him.”

Nadal has been in search of his best form over the past 12 months and has managed to string together some solid results from the end of last season. He started 2016 by making the final in Doha but was then hammered by Novak Djokovic 6-1, 6-2 to end up with the runner-up trophy in the Qatari capital.

Asked if the heavy defeat in Doha took him by surprise, Toni said: “No, we weren’t surprised. Rafael has played well and sometimes it’s a little the same when Guillermo Vilas played against Bjorn Borg, maybe one was No1 and Vilas was No2 on clay, and normally Borg beat him so easily, because they had a similar game but the other one made every shot a little better.

“And in Doha, Djokovic has played very very very good for me, and our serve wasn’t good enough, our forehand wasn’t good enough, the backhand was good but it wasn’t enough to beat Novak. I don’t know when and where, but we can change a little (to close the gap)…”

Nadal has been trying to implement changes in his game to get back to his grand slam-winning ways and catch up with his fellow ‘Big Four’ rivals. He has been trying to step inside the court and be more aggressive with his forehand.

His uncle/coach explains that while Nadal hasn’t been used to generating good shots from the first hit, having come from a clay-based game that involved long rallies and more tactics, he understands that today’s game is not like that and that adjustments must be made accordingly.

Toni admits making changes to one’s game after capturing 14 grand slams like his nephew is no mean feat.

“It is a very complicated process,” concedes the Mallorcan coach. “He’s been doing so well his whole life doing the same thing. It’s not the same making changes when you haven’t much success compared to Rafael, who has been quite successful in his career.

“It’s like telling the Barcelona players that they have to do something else to find a way... It’s not easy but it has to be done. We have no choice.”

Nadal is 14-2 lifetime against Verdasco, who is a former world No7 but has now slipped to 45. Verdasco beat Nadal in Miami last year.

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