By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, February 12, 2022
Watching nephew Rafael Nadal deliver the greatest comeback of his career in the Australian Open final to capture a men’s record 21st major championship has inspired epiphany in Toni Nadal.
Uncle Toni Nadal says world No. 1 Novak Djokovic is not the GOAT because Rafa Nadal is sole Grand Slam king.
In a wide-ranging interview with Argentina’s Manana Sylvestre Radio 10Toni Nadal asserted Rafa Nadal would be GOAT if not for suffering so many injuries that have forced him to miss three of the last six Grand Slam tournaments.
“Djokovic is not the best today because my nephew has 21 titles,” Toni Nadal told Manana Sylvestre Radio 10. “He has an ‘average’ of participations in Grand Slam and in tournaments superior to the others.
“It’s not the same to play all tournaments than to play half. We forget Rod Laver, who was able to win the Grand Slam twice. To know who is the best, you have to look closely at history.”
Though Djokovic owns more weeks as world No. 1 and more year-end finishes as world No. 1 than any man and holds a superior head-to-head record over rivals Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, Toni Nadal does not believe the 34-year-old Serbian has achieved GOAT status.
Pointing out his nephew suffered a foot injury after defeating Mariano Puerta to win his maiden major at the 2005 Roland Garros and battled through the pain of the chronic foot injury to fight back from two sets down vs. Daniil Medvedev in the Melbourne final, Toni Nadal said if Rafa Nadal had been healthier in his career “he would have been the best.”
“I try not to be a fan of anything or my nephew or anything,” Toni Nadal said. “The one who is a fanatic is a closed person. Who is the best? It is a difficult thing to determine.
“The one who manages to play at the highest level punctually, the one who wins the most titles … If my nephew hadn’t been injured so much, and it’s not uncle’s love, he would have been the best.”
Asked to assess Djokovic’s deporation from Australia, Toni Nadal called the situation “a shame” but added rules must apply to all players.
“It was a shame that a number one like Djokovic has to come out in the press because of this situation,” Toni Nadal said. “It is not pleasant, but I have already said it before: there are some rules and they are to comply with them whether you like them or not.
“Nobody likes to pay taxes, but it is the norm, it must be done and there is no choice. The rule is the one that the Australian Government imposed on its citizens and it would be incredible if a foreigner could skip it.”
Uncle Toni Nadal, who wields a lethal one-handed backhand, said when it comes to the combination of career achievement and aesthetically-pleasing style, he personally favors Roger Federer in the GOAT debate.
“There is very little difference between Nadal, Djokovic and Federer,” Toni Nadal said. “I think Roger is the one who has done the highest things.”
This is not the first time Uncle Toni has tabbed the Swiss superstar as favorite in the GOAT debate.
In an interview with Hall of Famer Mats Wilander for Eurosport a couple of years ago, Uncle Toni tabbed Federer as GOAT — and his personal favorite player to watch aside from his nephew.
“For me, he’s a wonderful player,” Toni Nadal said of Federer. “I like a lot to watch Roger Federer. [If] I was not the uncle or the coach of Rafael, I want Federer to win all the matches.
“I like how [Federer] plays because he’s very elegant, but he’s very effective, too. I know Federer is the best ever. I do not know maybe with Rod Laver… Rafael is not too far. Federer is the best. ”
Toni Nadal, who runs the Rafa Nadal Academy in his native Mallorca, says he has a simple tennis dream: that young players try to emulate Federer and Nadal — not necessarily because of their styles of play but because of the passion they both bring to the game.
“I hope in the next generation can be a player like Roger, similar to Roger, or similar to Rafael,” Toni Nadal said. “Because when they put this passion, it’s good for the ATP Tour.”
Photo credit: Rafa Nadal Academy