On Day 3 of Wimbledon, the practice courts are a beehive of activity. The All England Club’s Aorangi Park looks more like a school courtyard than the grounds’ practice area.
A large throng of spectators have flocked to one specific area of the park. It’s here where Rafael Nadal, dressed from head to toe in white, is training at full intensity with Chilean Nicolas Jarry. One court over and just a few feet away, Nick Kyrgios is winding down his own training session. In less than 24 hours, the World No. 2 and the 24-year-old Australian will meet in the second round at The All England Club.
Francisco Roig is on hand to oversee Nadal’s practice session. Roig, who has been a part of Nadal’s team since 2005, is tasked with developing the blueprint ahead of Nadal’s matches and working with his charge on areas that need tweaking. On this day, Roig is focusing special attention to the nuances of the 18-time Grand Slam champion’s service motion.
Roig spoke with ATPTour.com and discussed Nadal’s 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Yuichi Sugita in the first round at The Championships, a second-round showdown against Kyrgios and Nadal’s development as a player under Roig’s tutelage.
Now that the opening round is out of the way, the real work begins…
The first round of a Grand Slam is always difficult, even more so at Wimbledon. Rafa arrived in London without any grass-court play this year, just as he has the past two years. So it means a lot to me that he made such an impressive start to his Wimbledon campaign.
Rafa, though, is extremely demanding; he’s always hard on himself. Rafa always wants more. He wasn’t totally satisfied with Monday’s result, but to win 6-3, 6-1, 6-3, against a player who’s very competent on grass. Just looking at how this year’s Wimbledon is already playing out, and how three very good seeds have unexpectedly lost, it just goes to show, it’s a totally different game on grass.
Nadal said he “saw myself close in my past two appearances” at Wimbledon.
I would say close to winning it all. Rafa is always very modest, but he was clearly close to victory on those two occasions.
Last year he played a great match in the semis against Novak Djokovic. We know that the schedule and the [11 p.m. curfew] didn’t do him any favours. It would have been better for him to play out the match without that interruption. He was leading after the first day, two sets to one and playing top-notch tennis. He let that one slip away. If he had time to close out the match, he would have played [Kevin] Anderson, who was clearly less than full strength after his epic semi-final against John Isner. Rafa knew his odds were good if he could get past Djokovic.
The year before, Rafa knew he was going to have his hands full in the fourth round against Gilles Muller because he always performs well here. Rafa started badly, dropping the first two sets before rallying to level the match. He fell just short at the end. In my opinion, Rafa was so close that year as well.
This year, you as a team have overcome some complicated situations
Rafa loves to play tennis. That goes without saying. It’s just who he is. He loves to be in the thick of it at these big tournaments. He likes when things go his way and loves it when he wins. Just when he thinks he might be down and out, or that he no longer enjoys the game, he digs deep and finds the motivation to push through adversity. It’s this mindset, coupled with his awesome talent, that makes him a special player.
He’s so successful because he can’t picture himself sitting at home while his peers are out there competing. So long as he has that bug in him and he remains in good health, he’ll continue to be driven toward success.
Nadal has said that he “decided to opt for perseverance.” How does he do that?
Rafa has very clear virtues. If it’s not his day and things aren’t going according to plan, he still finds a way to win. He’s self-aware before stepping on the court and knows how to go about his business in just about every circumstance. He’s guided by instincts and intuition. If he realizes he’s going to need more heart than skill, he’s ready to dig deep and gut things out with everything he’s got.
I always use this example: Before heading out of the locker room and onto the court, he looks at his bag as though it’s his artillery. He has the mindset that he’s prepared for war and this is what he’s bringing into battle. “What do I have to do to emerge victorious? What weapons are at my disposal?” Whatever he has on hand, you can be sure he’s going to put it to good use. It’s one of the major keys to his success. Even if he must win ugly, so be it. So long as he gets through today, tomorrow might be better.
Now Nadal gets ready to play Kyrgios tomorrow.
It might not have the look or feel of a second-round match, but that’s where we’re at. I’m aware there’s a lot of buzz surrounding this match and that expectations are high. Maybe it’s a little early for players of this merit to be colliding, but Rafa is treating this match and his opponent as he would any other. Kyrgios has a lot of potential and we know things are going to be complicated. When the time comes to play, all distractions will be put to the side.
How does Nadal prepare for a match like this?
It’s important not to have a lot of ups and downs, especially against a player like Kyrgios. Rafa must go into the match with a clear view of what he has to do and be confident of his strategy. This helps build a steam of confidence once things get going.
This is what sets Rafa apart from the rest. He’s capable of maintaining a high level of play for an extended period. That’s why five-set matches fit his style of play so well. Rafa has managed to take a lot of the “what ifs” out of the equation. I can’t point to any weaknesses or any aspects of his game that are lacking. That said, he’ll need to be at his best if he’s to overcome such a dangerous opponent.
For someone who has seen Nadal grow over the years, where do feel he stands now, at the age of 33?
He’s a completely different player than the one I began working with years ago. I’m not saying this version of Rafa is better than the Rafa from years before. I do think he has evolved into a more refined version of himself and that’s not something that’s easy to achieve for any player.
Even if he isn’t a better player, he’s definitely more complete. He has a deeper arsenal he can summon now: His serve is better, he uses his slice more effectively, his volley is more precise … all this makes for a better attacking game. His backhand has definitely improved, and he can turn defence into offense off the once-weaker side.
Obviously, Rafa was in better physical condition years ago. That diminishes with age. He also had a certain element of brazenness about him. He was fearless and losing didn’t register in his brain. But his game was becoming a little stale. Molding him into a more complete player by building his repertoire, refining the fundamentals and providing him with options are what has made him the force he is today and why he’s a title contender at Wimbledon.