16 May 2018
Spaniard Rafael Nadal will be remembered as one of tennis' best ever players -- and competitors -- and one of his country's finest sportspeople.
But the level of intensity that Nadal brings to his game has come at a cost.
So much so that the 16-time grand slam winner would trade a few of his titles for a little less suffering, according to his uncle Toni -- the man who has done the most to shape the player's career apart from Nadal himself of course.
Nadal has been "living with pain and painkillers since 2005," Toni said Thursday at the Congreso Murcia Sport & Business conference in Murcia, Spain.
"For this reason he's considered his well-being above wins and many times he's told me that he would have liked to win less in exchange for having less pain."
Significant injury problems
Injuries indeed have been an ever present for Nadal, though he still currently sits second behind Roger Federer on the men's grand slam ladder. And in a feat that will perhaps go unmatched, he has won the French Open 10 times.
Nadal's knees have most often been the culprit but his feet, back, wrist and hamstring have also caused him significant injury problems.
He underwent appendix surgery too in 2014 and a hip injury sustained in the Australian Open quarterfinals against Marin Cilic two months ago realistically cost the 31-year-old a spot in the final in Melbourne.
Nadal subsequently withdrew late from a tournament in Acapulco last month and then pulled out of Indian Wells and Miami, the two biggest combined events outside the grand slams.
His style of play -- more taxing than Federer -- is arguably a contributory factor in his litany of injuries while Nadal has more than once said there are too many hard-court tournaments.
Targeting Davis Cup
Nadal disclosed in his autobiography that a congenital foot issue in 2005 almost ended his career -- at the age of 19 -- and Toni said it led to a number of complications.
"The specialist we went to told us that Rafael's career was pretty much finished," said Toni. "Well, in 2005 Rafael had to constantly live in pain. From that time on, we couldn't finish training sessions a lot of times.
"A lot of times -- almost always -- he would have to take a painkiller because the pain would get worse and worse as the games went on.
"Because of some insoles that he started using, which solved his foot problem, he started having problems in his knee, back and other parts of his body."
But Nadal has always found a way to recover from his ailments and this time hopes to be ready for Spain's Davis Cup quarterfinal against Germany in Valencia from April 6-8. On Wednesday, Nadal was swimming in an effort to aid his recovery.
The tie is being played on clay, the gentlest surface for Nadal and the one on which he has won everything -- landing that unprecedented 10th French Open title in 2017 after defeating Stan Wawrinka.
If Nadal -- 22-1 in singles in the Davis Cup, losing only to former world No. 5 Jiri Novak -- does play, it would mark his first home appearance in the soon-to-be revamped competition since 2013.
"I spoke with him and his goal is to play it," said Toni. "Obviously, we, or rather he, will see how he is. If he's recovered, then surely he'll play."
Toni stopped traveling with his nephew last year and now spends much of his time working at Nadal's academy in the family's hometown of Manacor in Mallorca.
"I don't speak to him directly about tennis," said Toni, also tournament director of the women's Mallorca Open in June. "I ask him how he is, you know, how an uncle asks, since I want everything to go well for him."
He still follows the game and is convinced his nephew is the man to beat on clay this season, despite the hip injury.
"I haven't really asked him, but I think he's got the maximum expectations. Last year, things went really well for him. The year before that ... until he picked up the injury, things went very well for him on clay," said Toni, referring to the wrist injury that forced a tearful Nadal to bail from the 2016 French Open in the first week.
"I don't think there's any reason to think that they won't go as well this year. Each year is more difficult, that's reality. But I think this year, in my view, the No. 1 guy to have a good clay season is Rafael."
Toni won't be at Roland Garros this year -- after he presented Nadal with a replica "Decima" trophy following the 2017 final. Yet he has settled into life away from the tennis tour.
"My life is good," he said. "Obviously, I'm doing something different, but it's good. I've had the luck to have had fun when I was in Rome, Australia, London or in New York, but I've also had the luck to have fun in life when I'm in Mallorca or, like today, in Murcia."