TENNIS

Toni Nadal: “I’m no sexist. Men’s and women’s tennis are different sports”

Rafa Nadal’s coach stands by objections to hiring of Spain’s first female Davis Cup captain

Toni Nadal during a match.
Toni Nadal during a match.CORDON

Toni Nadal, uncle and coach of Spanish tennis star Rafa Nadal, is sticking by critical comments he made on Monday about the appointment of Gala León as Spain’s new Davis Cup captain.

In an interview today with the Cadena SER radio network he said he stood by his view that the 40-year-old former female professional – the first woman to occupy the role – was not the right choice to replace Carlos Moyà as leader of the men’s team following its shock loss to Brazil and subsequent relegation earlier this month. “I don’t regret what I said,” he confirmed. “I said nothing offensive about Gala nor about women. I limited myself to saying that I was surprised by the decision.”

According to the world number two’s coach, the issue is purely technical and has nothing to do with gender. “I limited myself to saying that it was a problem and I still think that. In no way am I sexist. You could brand me old-fashioned in seeing problems about having to share a dressing room with a woman, but to go from there to talking about sexism… Would I be OK with peeing in front of a woman? No way. That in any case might be old-fashioned.”

There are certain barriers, Nadal said. “A woman is just as capable as a man, but men’s and women’s tennis are different sports,” he said. “I know nothing about the hours and training systems for women’s tennis. I don’t even know who the best players are. I doubt Gala León knows the [men’s] world number 40. I’m sure [former Spanish player Sergi] Bruguera, who trains [Richard] Gasquet, knows him,” he argued.

A lot of time is spent in locker rooms without many clothes; that’d be weird  with a woman”

Nadal used the example of former French player Amélie Mauresmo, who now coaches Britain’s Andy Murray, to support his views. “If in a few years’ time, she is still on the men’s circuit and they appoint her Davis Cup captain, then I think that would be fine. She has had an absolutely brilliant career,” he said. “For me there is a clear objective reason. If you look back over the last Davis Cup captains, they have all been ex-players. There are players of great merit, such as Sergi Bruguera and Juan Carlos Ferrero, who seem better options than Gala León to me. If León then turns out to be a great captain? Then great.”

Asked if he might one day accept an offer to lead the Federation Cup team, the female equivalent of the Davis Cup, Nadal rejected the idea. “I don’t think I would be capable. I wouldn’t accept it because I don’t think that I would be the right person. There are people with a lot more prestige in the world of tennis than me, much more prepared than me. I know nothing about women’s tennis. I know Sharapova or the top four, but not the number 20.”

Nadal went on to underline his nephew’s commitment to Spain’s Davis Cup team and tried to downplay his previous day’s protests over León’s appointment. “I can’t stop being surprised for several reasons,” he told RNE state radio on Monday. “She isn’t a person we know on the men’s circuit, which is an added difficulty for her […]. I believe she doesn’t know the players, at least Rafael; and there is a logistical difficulty that is difficult to solve, because in the Davis Cup a lot of time is spent in locker rooms without much clothing and with a woman it would always be weird.

I don’t think the fact she is a woman affects anything” Tennis player Marc López

“Logic tells me that it would have been more normal for Juan Carlos Ferrero, or an ex-player to be captain,” he continued. “I like things to be as simple as possible and I think it is easier for the captain to be a man.”

Members of Spain’s Davis Cup squad have also expressed their surprise at the appointment. “I’ve never worked with a female coach or captain before,” said Marc Granollers. “I know that the captains that we have had are players with great careers, great successes, who knew the men’s circuit perfectly, all the players … and that this will be a bit different.”

“To take charge of the team now, when it has gone down, is difficult,” said Fernando Verdasco. “I don’t want to go against her, but as long as it can be, the captain ought to be a man. [But] I have no doubt she could do a great job and bring the team back up.”

“I don’t think the fact she is a woman affects anything,” argued Marc López. “The players have to accept it, to be united, to play, win and go up to the World Group.

“There are several rooms … it’s not essential that she is there where you’re having a shower,” he added. “It will be a bit different, but I don’t think whether she can or can’t be there all the time will influence the development of her work.”