Francisco Roig reflects on his long-term partnership with the Spaniard
Francisco Roig has been working with Rafael Nadal since the year 2005, when the Spaniard had yet to win his first Grand Slam. As a result, the Catalonian coach has experienced the vast majority of the No. 2 FedEx ATP Ranked player’s victories, including the one he claimed today in the first round of the Paris Rolex Masters against Feliciano López, his 1000th win as a professional.
Roig spoke to ATPTour.com to look back at some of his best memories of Nadal’s legendary career.
In terms of his tennis, how has Nadal changed from when you started working with him in 2005 to today?
In terms of tennis, if he hadn’t evolved, it would have been difficult to stay in a position to win the Grand Slam tournaments. Before, his age allowed him to play in a more repetitive fashion, with less variation and a mobility that I have not seen in anyone. He was aware that his game needed to evolve. Doing that when you’re number one in the world is complicated.
Today, Rafa has two main characteristics: he approaches the net much more and moves his opponent much better. As a result, the points are shorter, and this really benefits him, almost more than the long ones. Playing better tennis means you can enjoy the daily work in training and matches more. Of course, the physical side of things can hold you back, but the mental side can also help you stay competitive at his age.
He is still just as hyperactive. It’s one of his quirks. He always has to be doing things. He’s in his room on his computer, watching the TV and playing Ludo with his family over the phone. Obviously, facing competition when you are young means you are less aware. Everything is new and it’s easier to handle the pressure. Now it’s more difficult. He’s in a group of players who cannot ever lose when they take to the court.
Apart from that, he is a person who likes to know about everything that’s happening in life. He’s gradually learned things for himself and become cultured. Some athletes aren’t really interested in that, but Rafa has a great interest in what’s going on in the world, even concern.
Did you ever think he could become one of the best tennis players of all time?
It’s a very difficult achievement. When you start out, you’re not thinking of being the best in history or winning 20 Grand Slams. Rafa is a very prudent person in terms of talking about what he can achieve. He is fully aware of how difficult it is to win a Grand Slam.
Being by his side, watching everything, you can’t help but think that his limits are very high. I used to talk to him about numbers, and he always guessed low. Kind of like he was expecting to have a good career, but not as exceptional as the one he is producing.
What surprises you most about today’s Nadal?
It’s complicated. The thing I’ve valued most about Rafa is his humility, the ability to keep listening and keep improving. Or being able to win points with few weapons because he’s not playing his best tennis. And then he has something that’s very good in tournaments; when he finds his game, it’s rare that he loses it. And the consistency of so many years without leaving the Top 10. Even the year when he was struggling, when he found it mentally difficult to compete, he was the only one who didn’t drop out of the Top 10.
And the biggest challenge you have faced as his coach?
I have always tried to instill in him that I like tennis moving forwards. I noticed it when we used to train. I would make him do it a little more than he liked. He would argue with what I wanted, but that’s good, and it sounded crazy to him. And when he beat Medvedev it was one of his most important weapons. I’ve told him that the next step is to serve and immediately approach the net. In general, when I’ve been with him at tournaments, I’ve tried to make him see that he has to go forward more. He hasn’t always agreed. Not because he didn’t believe it, because maybe he wanted to keep the feeling of not making mistakes. With time, he’s done it and it’s a significant change. Rafa is a person who, if he decides to do something new, he can achieve it.
Today he reached 1000 ATP Tour wins. Which is your favourite?
Of course, the Grand Slam tournaments are different. The first final when he beat Federer at Wimbledon was very special, or the one he took against Djokovic at Roland Garros in 2014, but I would choose two wins at Masters 1000 tournaments.
At Indian Wells in 2013, when he was coming off the back of a knee injury. When we got there, he told me that he would be happy if he could play a couple of matches pain free. He beat Del Potro in the final. I remember hugging Rafa Maymó and him, and we felt a very special feeling.
Last year in Rome he beat Djokovic after a few months of really struggling mentally. He was very happy in the locker room. Rafa is a person who very rarely gets overexcited in terms of expectations. He’s very cautious. But after beating Djokovic that day it looked very good for Roland Garros. Really, it wasn’t winning a Masters 1000, it was taking a very important step.