Moyá joins Nadal's coaching team, but will he be the change of voice the Spaniard needs?
The confirmation of Carlos Moyá joining Rafael Nadal’s team is one that brings intrigue to the future career of the nine-time French Open champion.
In recent years, many have called for Nadal to seek another perspective from somebody other than his uncle Toni, who has mentored him since childhood. Moyá has now been selected as the man to answer those calls, but can he make a difference?
Throughout their careers, both Moyá and Nadal have shown great respect towards each other. Shortly after Moyá’s selection as the Spanish Davis Cup captain in October 2013, Nadal called him "one of the most important athletes" in his native country. Meanwhile, Moyá has praised his compatriot on multiple occasions, most recently saying that he has the ability to return to the top of the ATP Emirates Rankings.
“I think he will enjoy tennis for a few years, [but] he struggled to enjoy this year because the injury came at the worst moment where he was playing well. It´s complicated to play with pain for years, and when you have physical issues you don't enjoy the sport. I think he can be world no. 1 again," Moyá told Spanish radio station Onda Cero.
Nadal’s decision to expand his coaching team is a welcome one, but is he playing it too safe? Moyá is a person that he already has a strong relationship with, playing against him eight times on the ATP Tour and teaming up with him in four doubles tournaments. There will be no shocks in store for the Spaniard, instead he will be guided by somebody who he sees as a close friend as well as an inspirational figure.
"I am happy that Carlos is with us. First of all because he is a great friend and a great tennis fan; with the rest of my team he will help me a lot in order that everything goes well," said Nadal.
With no radical shake-up in store for Nadal’s game, what will Moyá bring? One clue comes from Milos Raonic's season, given he worked with the 1998 French Open champion throughout 2016. Earlier this year at the Rome Masters, Raonic attributed the improvement of his approach to tennis towards his stint with Moyá.
"He's definitely helped me with the way I deal with situations," Raonic said. "He's also helped me understand my game a little bit better and helped me to be more efficient. It's been a very positive effect on my tennis, for sure."
Throughout the 11 month period where they worked together, it seems that the power of Moyá's voice attributed to the Canadian's best-ever season, where he finished third in the world. In previous year,s Raonic showed glimmers of his talent, but lacked variety of shots and the consistency needed to rise to the top.
What Moyá did was make him think about his game - where he was going wrong and how to cope with when in trouble. It was the Spaniard's calm approach that increased Raonic’s mentality and belief in his own game.
That mental boost was rewarded on the court in what has been the best year of Raonic's professional career. Already renowned for his quick serve, the Canadian's break point conversion rate has increased by 3% compared to 2015, according to ATP’s 'Beyond the Numbers'.
In fact, every area of his return game has improved to some degree compared to the previous year. Most notably, he has seen a 24% rise in his ability to break his opponent's serve when coming from 0-30 down. This success has occurred despite a slight decline in his serving standards, where he has hit 228 double faults compared to his 2015 tally of 142.
What those numbers indicate is that he is in the process of becoming a more all-round player. He has also enjoyed a spike in his yearly prize money from $1.4M to $4.6M, thanks to a win-loss record of 52-17 this season. Evidently, this improvement is down to the hard work and sacrifices of the 26-year-old, but there is more to it. It is also thanks to the work of his team that has given Raonic the confidence that he has the ability be amongst the best in the world - an accomplishment that Moya has been part of.
The approach that worked well with Raonic is something that Nadal needs.
Distinguishing the difference between the Spanish pair is a difficult task. Both were born in Mallorca, both are former world No.1 players and both have won the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award. Ironically, it is these similarities that make Moyá a stellar choice for his compatriot's team. At this stage in his career, the nine-time French Open champion needs to be supported by those who he can trust and respect, and he certainly has that in spades with his new coach.
"Call him a friend or whatever, but Nadal has confidence in me, not only in tennis, but he trusts me on a personal level. Our relationship goes beyond the track,” Moyá recently told Spanish outlet ABC.
"Rafa knows I want the best for him, even when I have not been on his team. There is a trust that is fundamental for us to come to this (coaching agreement)."
Questions remain about Nadal’s future ability in tennis. He has already sealed his position as one of the all-time great in the sport, but it is unclear if Moyá’s influence will be significant enough to ensure that Nadal is a formidable force on a weekly basis, and not just on his beloved clay throughout the new year.
After experiencing another roller coaster season due to injury setbacks, Nadal will once again be eager for greater success in 2017. Currently on course for a full recovery from a wrist injury in time for the start of the new season, things are on the up for the 30-year-old.
He is set to start his 2017 campaign at the Brisbane International (Australia) in the first week of January, bidding to win his first title in the country since triumphing at the 2009 Australian Open.
All eyes might be on Nadal, but the pressure has already started to mount on Moyá's shoulders. Whether or not he can use that pressure to silence Nadal's critics remains to be seen.