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Uncle Toni watches his Nephew
LEFT HANDED OR RIGHT?
Rafa first attended the club at Manacor, which is situated across the street where he lived, and hit his first few shots with his uncle, when he was three years old. Age four he began playing there twice a week, usually in a group.
Toni said that initially his nephew found tennis boring, and Rafa himself said that being in a group helped him greatly, as if it had been just he and Toni, he would never have lasted.
In his 2011 autobiography Rafa stated that Toni deliberately picked on him during the sessions, shouting at him rather than the other kids, and making him be the one who picked up the balls and swept the courts afterwards.
At these ages Rafa could play tennis equally well with his left or right hand, and played his groundshots double-handed on both sides. Toni advised Rafa he should play left-handed, as he thought that was his stronger hand. (Rafa eats, throws, plays golf, basketball and darts right-handed, but is left-footed at soccer.)
For the next few years, although Rafa played tennis, he was far more interested in soccer. One of his other uncles, Miguel Angel, the former “Beast of Barcelona” had played professionally for Real Mallorca and Barcelona, and represented the Spanish national side 62 times.
By age seven Rafa was training five times a week, every week, for an hour and a half, and age eight won the Balearic Islands 12-and-under regional title.
Realising Rafa’s potential, and with the family’s financial backing, Toni then began training him more seriously.
Toni said, “He had a very good mentality, and so I thought it was possible, not probable, but possible that he could win a Grand Slam.”
To help develop Rafa’s character, Toni often trained him on bad courts with poor tennis balls often in windy conditions, to teach him that winning or losing isn’t about the quality of the courts, strings, lights, balls or weather conditions, but that it is about attitude, discipline and perspective.
If he saw Rafa’s concentration wandering, Toni would deliberately hit balls at him, not to hurt him but to regain his attention.
When Rafa was 10 Toni told him to use just one hand on the forehand, as in his opinion, very few top players were successful using a two-handed forehand.
“There are no professional players who play with two hands and we’re not going to be the first, so you’ve got to change,” he said to his nephew.
The transition was difficult for Rafa, but Toni helped him make the change, getting him to try it for just 20 minutes per day.