Few people understand the genius and torment of Rafa Nadal more instinctively than Carlos Moya. The former world No.1 is a fellow Mallorcan, a family friend and even a member of the man from Manacor’s extended entourage. He was first enlisted as a hitting partner when he was 22 and his fellow islander just 12; first suffered the indignity of losing to him on the tour in Hamburg a few years later, and only last month dined out with Nadal in the wake of his record equalling eighth Roland Garros title.
If those sunny uplands suddenly seem a lifetime away following the Spaniard’s shock first-round loss to Steve Darcis on Monday, Moya sensed all along that a third Wimbledon title this fortnight would have taken some doing. The 1998 French Open champion – he vanquished Murray’s former coach Alex Corretja in the final of a tournament in which three of the final four were all Spanish – fought his own losing battle with injury, in his case the arthritic toe problem which forced him to retire, and has witnessed first hand the punishing rehab his one-time prodigy has undergone on his left knee.
“It wouldn’t have surprised me if he won it, but he was not the biggest favourite in my opinion,” said Moya. “Because to me, although he has been playing unbelievably well, he is not playing the best tennis of his life. We are talking about a player who has won 12 Grand Slams already, so it is very hard to say that a guy like that is playing his best tennis ever. Very few people ever expected him to be back at his best level. Even he wasn’t sure that would happen three months ago.”
Not that obituaries for the 27-year-old’s playing career should be compiled right now. Prior to Monday, Nadal had reeled off seven tournament wins from the nine he had entered since bringing his seven-month absence from the tour to an end in Chile in February, and quite simply his powers of recovery are such that Moya fully expects him to do it all over again.
“I have seen Rafa come through so many difficult situations in his life that nothing would be a surprise for me any more,” said Moya, who was in Scotland for the first time last week to compete in the Brodies Champions of Tennis in Edinburgh. “When he was 19 or 20 he had a very bad injury with his foot and he came back and won a slam. He has won Wimbledon twice and reached five finals. If you had told me that 15 years ago, I would not have believed it to be honest.”
Moya’s availability as a hitting partner for the teenage Nadal has passed into the stuff of legend – becoming a bugbear for an envious Andy Murray who set sail for the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona shortly afterwards. Moya reluctantly concedes that he might have been of assistance, but feels the arrangement was of mutual benefit.
“When he was 14 we practised together many times,” he said. “For sure it was a help, that when he had something to ask, he had someone to ask it to. That is not easy when you are only 14 years old and you live on an island. But in the same way he also helped me to improve: you don’t want to lose to a 14-year-old kid when you are in the top 10 in the world. And that happened, very often, when we were practising.”
The grass at SW19 was never kind to Moya –he never reached the quarter-finals, his biggest claim to fame a gruelling five-set defeat to Tim Henman in 2007 – and now he spends his time playing on the Champions Tour and working in his own coaching academy in Madrid. Spanish tennis remains the envy of the world, with 13 players in the top 100, but Moya doesn’t see any heirs to the King of Clay’s throne any time soon. “I think a Nadal in Spain happens once in a lifetime,” he said. “I don’t think we are going to see another Rafa ever in Spain.” Contrary to reports of his downfall, neither does it seem likely that we have seen the last of this one.
Source: Herlald Scotland