How did Rafael Nadal rise to the top of the tennis world? Well, it seems that exceptional coaching coupled with tough love are among the main drivers of such amazing skills. Rafael Nadal is the only player ever to have won 21 Grand Slam men's singles titles.

From the first balls he threw to his three-year-old nephew Rafael, Uncle Toni saw all of the kid's potential. At this time, Toni Nadal, once a top Spanish amateur tennis player, was already coaching hundreds of children at Manacor Tennis Club on the island of Mallorca. "When I hit the ball to Rafael, he went towards it. He didn't wait for the ball to arrive to him," told Toni.

Rafael Nadal matched Swiss Roger Federer's all-time record of 20 major victories winning the Roland-Garros French Open in 2020, while Serbias' Novak Djokovic winning Wimbledon matched both of them a year later. On Sunday, January 2, 2022, Rafael Nadal won his second Australian Open title in an epic match against Russia's Daniil Medvedev, surpassing both records of Federer and Jokovic.

As his sister, Maribel, and Nadal himself acknowledged, Rafael would probably not have achieved such success without the great coaching of Toni, who turned 61 in February 2022. The uncle was in his early 30s when his nephew first joined a small group of kids Toni was training.

However, the young Nadal used to be annoyed by what he felt was overly tough treatment from Toni, saying that his coach used to shout and frighten him when it was just the two of them, sometimes leaving him with a "sinking feeling in his stomach." "I demanded a lot from Rafael because I cared a lot," Toni justified himself.

"I believe in the work, and I believe in the players who are strong enough to cope with the intensity of this work," Toni told BBC Sports. Sebastian Nadal, Rafael's father and Tonis' brother, as well as Rafael's mother Ana Maria, sometimes wondered if their son was not pushed too hard by his trainer.

But Toni Nadal said he only "wanted the best" for his nephew. "I was hard on him, but not strict. I was tough for his greater good." At any rate, it seems that generally, there were not too many family disagreements and the parents probably did appreciate how Toni was responding to the hopes for their son becoming a professional tennis player.

The 'Raging Bull' persona - characterized by endurance, intensity, relentlessness, and a refusal to accept defeat - was obviously created by Uncle Toni. Case in point, he once declared, "I was a coach who took care more of forming and strengthening Rafael's character than to form him technically."

The core skills that have enabled the champion to climb so high, still blatant in his matches today, are probably closely related to the strong methods his coach applied with him from the start. Endurance and persistence are perhaps the most important words in Nadal's mantra. They were enhanced at both the physical and mental levels due to the unbending training sessions with Toni. "Play every point as if it is your last," repeated the trainer.

Rafael Nadal, now in the twilight years of his career, won 16 of his 21 Grand Slam titles under his uncle's watchful eye. His ongoing exploits mean that it would be nonsensical to believe Nadal relies only on the power of his body and mind. "I think I gave him the commitment to the sport, to be always with his brain active and alert, to never give up. One of the most important things I said to him was that he needed to improve always," commented the coach.

"For all the haranguing I got from Toni, I am not one of those athletes whose life stories are all about overcoming dark beginnings in their rise to the top. I had a fairytale childhood," Nadal wrote in his book RAFA. This exceptional pair of uncle and nephew have indeed proven that a normal kid from a little town on a Spanish island, with enough effort and sacrifice, can achieve the ultimate performance goals envisioned more than two decades ago.

Such feats are possible in practically any field, both physically and intellectually. Anyone who trains in the right way has a chance to reach the most incredible results. Starting with your own children, girls as well as boys!

Picture: Rafael Nadal (Wikimedia Commons)