A day before he kicks off his Nitto ATP Finals campaign, Rafael Nadal took to the court in a practice session Sunday with fellow Spaniard and tournament alternate Pablo Carreno Busta. Nadal's uncle and coach, Toni, oversaw the last-minute preparations.
"Training has gone very well," Toni said. "We've practised at a very high level for this event. If Rafa's knee holds up, we expect good results."
A stress injury to the patella tendon in his right knee forced Nadal to withdraw ahead of his quarter-final match at the Rolex Paris Masters. The 16-time Grand Slam champion has spent the past several days working to overcome the injury in time for the Nitto ATP Finals. And while Rafa isn't dealing with knee pain at the moment, Toni is well aware that even at full strength, the road to victory for his charge will still be a difficult one.
"I've heard some people saying that the draw is in our favor, but I don't see it that way at all," Toni said of Rafa's group that includes David Goffin, Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov. "Specifically, I would have preferred if Dimitrov wasn't in our group altogether, but we'll have to deal with the draw we've been dealt. In all honesty, every match will have its own complications."
The round-robin format of the Nitto ATP Finals means an early loss doesn't spell immediate elimination, but Toni still feels it's critical that Rafa gets off to a strong start.
"Obviously, we're accustomed to the single elimination format," Toni said. "Just because a loss isn't the end of the road doesn't make things any less difficult when you're talking about the eight best players in the world facing one another in such a short span. The [round-robin] format requires a lot of effort from the start; the level of play starts very high and continues that way until the end. No one here is a pushover; we're talking about players like Goffin, like [Jack] Sock. So every match is an important one."
Toni is proud of his nephew's 2017 — a season that has included a pair of Grand Slam victories (Roland Garros and the US Open), two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 wins (Monte Carlo and Madrid), and two ATP World Tour 500 wins (Barcelona and Beijing), but the coach is most happy that Nadal has returned to a form that saw him dominate a few years ago.
"Rafael achieved so much this year," Toni said. "Between all the tournament wins, ending the year at No.1 — it's been a very good season for us. I'm proud of the victories, but also of his level of play. His game has been close to the level he was at in 2013, which was an extremely high level. To be able to reach No.1 at 31 years old, I can't say enough about that."
Source: Nitto ATP Finals