As the legendary Rafael Nadal goes for his 11th French Open title this month, students are developing a killer backhand, in a five-star setting, at his signature tennis academy in his hometown of Mallorca, Spain…
It’s a sunny Monday morning in November and I’ve just flown 3,800 miles from New York to Spain to play tennis. I’m not alone. Beside me on the court are five men and three women from seven different countries. Racquets in hand, we listen attentively to our smiling new coach standing before us. “It’s not too easy to improve so much in one week, so I want you to learn a little and have fun,” he says in his raspy voice.
I can’t help being a little anxious anyway: This isn’t just any tennis coach, but Toni Nadal, the man responsible for molding his nephew Rafael into one of the greatest to ever play the game. And this court is at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, in the gorgeous seaside town of Manacor on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Welcome to tennis paradise.
Although the doors of the RNA officially opened in May 2016, the 16-time Grand Slam champion had been floating the idea around for quite a while. “Rafa was seriously talking about an academy in 2011,” Toni recalls. “Many people from Qatar asked him to make one for them but he wanted to make the first one here in Manacor, his hometown.”
So Rafa set out to make it one of the best facilities in the world. The 31-year-old put his uncle Toni in charge of the academy, named fellow Mallorca native and former French Open champion Carlos Moya as technical director, and Rafa himself was involved in almost every aspect of the construction, down to the photos chosen to decorate the rooms. The result? A sprawling, 430,500-square-foot facility complete with 27 tennis courts (20 hard courts and seven clay), seven paddle courts, two squash courts, a soccer field, an indoor-outdoor pool, a state-of-the- art fitness center, five-star accommodations, and a spa that would make the Romans proud.
As for pupils, the academy offers two types of programs. Parents, eager to see if their child might become the next Wimbledon champion, can send their progeny to the academy for weekly lessons, summer camp, or full-time training (room, board, and schooling is provided for grades seven through 12). For adults just hoping to claim a title at the country club, programs are available year-round. “Most players are from intermediate to high level,” explains coach Sergio Sanchez, who hails from Benidorm, a city on the southeastern coast. “You can do a premium program with a one-to-one coach ratio or the group program with never more than four players to one coach.”
I am lucky enough to have landed a spot in the first-ever Toni Nadal Adult Tennis Camp at the RNA. That means 12 hours of instruction under Toni’s watchful eye, and another 12 hours of drills and match play with his trio of veteran coaches. Not to mention fitness classes, Pilates, yoga, and spin classes, and even a private session with Gemma Bes, Rafa’s personal nutritionist. “It’s impossible to learn everything in a week,” says coach Francisco Carrillo, a former ATP pro from Grenada. “So we base the training around Toni’s philosophy that tennis should be both challenging and fun.”
The daily routine is simple: Eat, sleep, and play tennis. Tennis every morning and tennis every afternoon. While I’d love to check out some of the island’s famous beaches, like Es Trenc and Formentor, or maybe go partying at the legendary nightclub BCM Planet Dance in Magaluf, by day two I’m already exhausted.
Instead, I opt for the RNA spa. With a sauna, steam room, cold tub, and variety of thermal pools and Jacuzzis, it’s the perfect place to recover. Or find the academy namesake. Which is exactly what happened one night when Rafa was spied having a soak before heading upstairs to the sports centre café to watch his beloved Real Madrid on the big screen. “It’s like a family here,” Sanchez says. “Rafa’s here a lot, and when he is he says hello to everyone.”
On the final day of the Toni Nadal Camp, after all the lessons and drills and points played, we have a tournament. “Take your time and swing through the ball,” Toni tells me as my opponent prepares to serve. “Just relax.” Relax? Impossible. See, my arms ache, my legs burn, and one of the best coaches in tennis history is about to watch me get smoked by a 110-mph serve. But I just smile. Because for a tennis junkie, it doesn’t get much better than this. ■
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