(Manacor) It’s a place that the champion wanted in his image: at the Rafa Nadal Academy, we play tennis, we meet leading players, others in the making, and we learn. To become better, always better.

Based in Manacor, the birthplace of the 22-time Grand Slam champion, this academy is also his legacy, both for his sport and for his island of Mallorca, in the Spanish Balearic archipelago.

“It comes from the desire of Rafael and his father to remain invested in tennis after the end of Rafael’s career”, tells AFP Toni Nadal, his uncle and former coach, now director of tennis at the academy. .

“He’s been active longer than we thought,” he adds with a smile, keeping an eye out for the up-and-coming talent training nearby.

At 37, Nadal hasn’t played in a tournament since January due to a hip injury, but remains very close to his academy where he often appears, not just to train. On June 14, he presided over a graduation ceremony there for 49 players and students, along with Iga Swiatek, the Polish world No.1 who has never hidden her admiration for the Spaniard.

In May, he also called a press conference there to announce his withdrawal from Roland-Garros, hoping to return in 2024 for “the probable last year of (his) sporting career”, with if possible “guarantees of being able to benefit “.

It is on the courts of his academy that he prepares for this return, in the midst of young athletes who sometimes have the chance to hit the ball with the king of clay, winner fourteen times of the French Open.

“I had the chance to play with him several times,” said Daniel Rincon, 20 and winner of the 2021 U.S. Open juniors, sitting on the terrace of the training center. “He helps us a lot, during breaks or even during exercises. He always wants us to improve. For us, his advice is very valuable. »

Norwegian Casper Ruud arrived at the academy when he was 19, ranked 143rd in the world and hoping to break into the top flight. Today, at 24, Ruud is 4th in the world, has won ten tournaments and played in three Grand Slam finals, including one against Nadal at Roland-Garros in 2022.

Beyond its 40 tennis courts, hard or clay, outdoors or indoors, there is also an international school, where young players can study and prepare for university.

Members of the academy can also take advantage of other facilities: swimming pools, padel courts and even a small football pitch, with the aim of training not only tennis players, but also “the best people possible” according to French coach Jeremy Paisan.

“The most important thing is the values ​​that we transmit,” remarked Paisan, responsible for players aged 14 to 18 at the academy, where motivational quotes from Nadal are posted everywhere.

“During my career, I learned to suffer” can we read, or “I always work with one goal in mind: to improve myself as a player and as a person”.

The academy also houses a museum, retracing the defining moments of Nadal’s career. Successes that are due to his perseverance and hard work, as Toni Nadal reminds us, who wants to instill these values ​​in students and remind the most ambitious to keep their feet on the ground: “‘The one who works the hardest is the one who has the more likely to succeed, so I will work harder than the others”. »

Despite Rafael Nadal’s monumental successes, the academy measures success differently, explains Toni Nadal: “Success is not having Casper (Ruud) or Felix (Auger-Aliassime), but everyone giving their full measure, and that the children who come here give their all, work hard and don’t feel like they’re wasting their time. »