After a rough 2016, Rafael Nadal is back in a Grand Slam final.
Nadal will play Roger Federer at the 2017 Australian Open final January 29.
Nadal defeated Grigor Dimitrov in a semifinal match in five sets, 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(7), 6-7(7), 6-4, on January 27 to advance to play for the championship. It’s the pair’s first time meeting in a grand slam since 2011 at the French Open.
The action starts at 3:30 a.m. Eastern and can be seen on TV on ESPN.
With the stage set, Nadal will be coached from the sideline the same way he always has, with his uncle, Toni Nadal.
Here’s what you need to know about Toni Nadal:
1. Toni Trained Rafael on Poor Quality Courts
Growing up, Rafael spent a lot of his time playing soccer on the streets of Manacor, Spain. He wrote that one day he entered a group of kids his uncle, Toni, was teaching tennis to. Rafael admitted that he thought the sport was boring, but working in a group helped him find a passion for it.
In the Telegraph article, Rafael wrote about Toni coaching him when he was a teen:
Toni was tough on me right from the start, tougher than on the other children. He demanded a lot of me, pressured me hard. He’d use rough language, shout a lot, he’d frighten me — especially when the other boys didn’t turn up and it was just the two of us. If I saw I’d be alone with him when I arrived for training, I’d get a sinking feeling in my stomach.
FirstPost.com reported that Toni chose to practice on “poor, ill-prepared courts with bad balls” in order to teach his nephew that success in the sport isn’t determined by good balls, courts or strings. Toni told FirstPost, “From when [Rafael] was little, I made it so that things didn’t always go smoothly. So, unlike other kids today, he has learned that things don’t always happen the easy way, not right away.”
2. Toni Is The Winningest Coach In History
Throughout his 26 years of coaching, Toni has built quite the impressive resume thanks to his nephew’s talent on the court. In 2013, in terms of Grand Slams, he became the winningest coach in the history of tennis. Rafael has won 14 Grand Slam trophies with his uncle coaching him.
As of January 28, Toni has coached Nadal to nine French Open titles, two Wimbledon titles, two U.S. Open championships, an Olympic gold medal and four Davis Cup crowns. His pupils have given him 67 total singles titles in his career and nine doubles titles in his 26-year coaching career.
3. Toni’s Brother, Miguel, Played Professional Soccer
Toni’s brother, Miguel Angel Nadal, played professional soccer in Spain for nearly 20 years. He was nicknamed “The Beast” because of his physical display on the field and ability to be a defender and midfielder.
Nadal’s career began with Mallorca and also ended with the club. In his first stint with the Mallorca (1987-1991), Nadal appeared in 130 games and scored 22 goals. His most memorable years came when he played for Barcelona for nine years, appearing in 208 games and scoring 12 goals from 1991 until 1999. He returned back to Mallorca to round out his career, playing from 1999 until 2005 when he retired.
In his career, Nadal, who is now 50-years old, made 487 professional appearances in games and scored 40 goals.
4. There Have Been Calls to Replace Toni as Rafael’s Coach
Toni’s years as Rafael’s head coach haven’t come without drama.
After losing in the first round of 2016’s Australian Open, there were many calls for Rafael to drop his uncle as his coach.
Vavel reported that one of the only reason’s he has stuck with his Uncle Toni for so long is simply because he is family.
But, most recently, Rafael made it a point to get more coaching assistance, announcing he added a new coach. But that announcement came with the caveat that he would still be working with Toni. Tennis.com reported that Rafael said in a December 2016 statement:
Carlos Moya will join my team immediately and work together with Toni and Francis Roig. To have someone like Carlos who is not only a friend, but also a very important person in my career is something special. He will be next to me [during] practice and competition. At the same time, he will also join the Rafa Nadal Academy, working with Toni and the rest of the technical team.
The added coaching has seemed to work, for now, as Rafael rebounded from the 2016 first-round loss and finds himself in the Australian Open final January 29.
5. Toni Made Controversial Statements About a Female Coach
Controversy broke out when Toni told a Spanish radio station that he thinks Spain’s hiring of female Gala Leon Garcia to captain the men’s team for the Davis Cup “could pose problems,” according to a CNN report.
Garcia was announced as the successor to Carlos Moya and became the first female to captain Spain’s team.
Toni said during the 2014 interview:
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.
The longtime coach added that he thinks the style in men’s and women’s tennis are far different and hiring a female to coach the men’s team could end badly.
A woman is just as capable as a man, but men’s and women’s tennis are different sports. 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 Leon knows the (men’s) world number 40 …”
He continued that he was concerned about the hours spent in the locker rooms “without much clothing,” adding that “with a woman, it would always be weird.”