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Thanks, Rafael

After 27 years and 75 titles together, Toni Nadal will no longer be training his nephew Rafa. The most acclaimed coach in tennis history writes about his feelings in EL PAÍS

Toni Nadal
Toni and Rafa Nadal celebrate the Roland Garros victory in June.
Toni and Rafa Nadal celebrate the Roland Garros victory in June.CHRISTIAN HARTMANN (REUTERS)

The Masters Cup of this last week was the icing on the cake of my career as coach for my nephew Rafael Nadal. I am concluding a happy 27-year period that began on the day that my brother Sebastián’s son walked into my tennis court at the tender age of three. Today, it is I who is walking out of his court instead, but my road does not end here. I will preserve my ties to tennis, because my dreams and my love for this sport fortunately remain intact.

Ever since my nephew’s tennis career got started, I have tried to develop in him a strong, decisive character in order to face the difficulties of tennis in particular and life in general, since I have always felt that there is a common denominator underlying both.

Thanks to him I have had experiences that far surpass anything I ever could have dreamed of as a coach

Throughout this time, I have been more bothersome than peaceable, and more demanding than given to flattery. I have conveyed more of a feeling of dissatisfaction than one of approval, and I have always made him shoulder all the responsibility. Following the words of Francisco de Quevedo (“whoever expects everything in life to be to his liking is in for many disappointments”) I never made things easier for Rafael.

I have had the good fortune of coexisting with a generation of great players, but I have always tried to make sure that the defense of my own player’s interests did not prevent me from appreciating the others from a more or less balanced perspective. I have never understood why rivalries should extend beyond the tennis court, nor have I ever considered a rival to be an enemy. This has enabled me to appreciate them, respect them, and learn from them.

We live in a society where the prevailing fanaticism, especially in politics but also in other areas, makes us consider our own point of view as the only valid one, and to dismiss, underestimate and even detest anyone who thinks or feels differently. To use an example from the world of sports: my support for FC Barcelona does not lead me to exaggerated praise for everything it does, nor do I systematically vilify everything to do with Real Madrid.

My relationship with Rafael has always been uncharacteristically easy given the world that we move in

I think it would be good for all of us to start taming our passions in the field of sports, and extend that attitude to everything else.

The time has come to look back and acknowledge and express gratitude for everything that this profession has given me. My gratitude is directed at many people who are more or less anonymous and who have been by my side on this journey throughout the years.

I most particularly want to mention the members of the team that started to grow with the arrival of Carlos Costa first, then with the addition of all the rest, whom I know there is no need to name one by one. I thank them all for their devotion, commitment, good work, and last but not least, their friendship. Spending time with them has made me a much better person and better professional. I also want to express my gratitude to the Fluxà family for wanting to join my name to that of Iberostar, a family-run business from the Balearic Islands that is a hotel industry leader in terms of human values and prestige.

I also thank all the foreign journalists, and most especially the Spanish ones, for showing so much rigor and respect for my nephew and, by extension, for myself. They did not descend into a discrediting campaign when things got complicated for Rafael. We have felt much more encouragement and understanding from the media than a desire to kick us when we were down due to game-related crises or injuries.

I have had the good fortune of coexisting with a generation of great players

Thanks also to all the fans who traveled to all the various tournaments and purchased tickets, who interrupted their hours of sleep to watch night games, and who supported, applauded and felt moved by each one of Rafael’s victories and defeats. Their support and affection have helped him raise many cups in the air, and so I am immensely grateful to them as well.

Finally, and in a very special way, I need to give enormous thanks to the person most responsible for my luck: my nephew Rafael. My relationship with him has always been uncharacteristically easy given the world that we move in. It is thanks to his good education, his respectful attitude and his passion that I have been able to explore and express my own approach to this profession. Thanks to him I have had experiences that far surpass anything I ever could have dreamed of as a coach. With him, I have traveled to incredible places and met relevant, interesting people from many walks of life. To this day I feel tremendously appreciated and loved because his figure has magnified mine much more than I deserve.

Antonio Muñoz Molina said in his essay Todo lo que era sólido (Everything that was solid), alluding to characters in high-placed positions right before the crisis, something like this: “We believed they were up there because they are very able and intelligent, when in reality it is often the other way around: because they are up there, we ended up believing that they are very able and intelligent.”

I leave you with this thought in order to avoid being overrated as I go back to my dear students in Manacor. Thanks from the heart, and farewell.

English version by Susana Urra.

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