“Nadal and Djokovic have something in the brain that doesn’t belong to humans” – interview with Magnus Norman
There is something about Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic that is not typical of Homo Sapiens.
Magnus Norman believes it, a man who after becoming the world number two and the French Open finalist as a pro player, has studied the game of the Spaniard and the Serb in depth as coach: “They have something in their brains that doesn’t belong to humans.”
“They are hungry to be better all the time, they can handle pressure like nobody else. I’m very impressed with how they’re doing it over all these years,” Magnus Norman told CLAY in an interview.
And as Stan Wawrinka’s guide, Magnus Norman was able to get the best version of the Swiss to dominate those privileged minds at the sport’s highest levels. With the coach on the bench, Wawrinka beat Nadal in the 2014 Australian Open final, and Djokovic to claim the 2015 Roland Garros and 2016 US Open trophies.
“In the last chapter of his career, Stan wants to do really well,” the Sweden commented about his friend with whom he worked for eight years. They parted ways in 2020 and reunited in 2022 to take advantage of that remaining gas left in the 37-year-old tennis player’s tank.
Some top tennis players have knocked on his door. They’ve wanted one of the most successful coaches of the last decade. But Magnus Norman saved the “yes” for Wawrinka’s last dance, where there is no other goal than for the Swiss to have a good time and be happy. And that can lead to those triumphs reminiscent of the golden days of Roger Federer’s teammate.
– How’s been coming back on tour?
– It’s good. Stan asked me to travel with him again. We’ve been 8 years together before. Now I’m happy to try to help him the last couple of years of his career.
– How this reunion happened?
– We always stayed in contact. I guess maybe I’m the person who knows Stan’s tennis the best, so he wanted me to be around as much as I can. So I’ll travel maybe 15 weeks in total with him this season. We will see.
– What’s different about him?
– His tennis is the same. He looks very, very motivated. We have to be very careful, by not overplaying and not doing too much. We need extra care in recovery, as that takes more time when you are older. We have spoken about it. If he wants to win another tournament he needs to win five matches, play five days in a row against good players. That’s the tricky part, and as he is older, we need to put extra care in his body.
– What can we expect about him? Specially in the biggest tournaments.
– We don’t talk much about big tournaments, we dont talk much about results. The goal is to try to prepare him as good as posible for all the events. He needs to feel inside that he is playing good tennis. With that feeling and a good preparation he can beat any of the top players any day. What is gonna be difficult is to make that for seven matches. But we don’t put any ranking goals, any preassure of reaching certain level. I’ve told him: you have to play tennis when and where you want it. You don’t go chasing points, just try to be happy. He has to enjoy his last years on the tour, because he already has had an amazing career.
– So he is at that stage where he chooses tournaments also because of off-court factors.
– Exactly. Maybe go to new tournaments, or the ones he has always played well before. He picks the places where he has friends. Wherever he gets this good feeling, because is the last couple of years. The goal is to be healthy. He loves to practice, to work hard still. The motivations remains to be as good as posible when he is about to turn 40.
– Has he set a deadline for his retirement?
– No, he will play as long as he feels he has the body to compete, as long he enjoys playing. He didn’t put a date or a year. On the last chapter of his career he wants to do it really well.
– Do you expect to see any new Grand Slam winner this year?
– Any bet?
– No bet, but there is a shift in the top. Roger quit, Novak is on the top, but Rafa is going down as it looks right know. You have a whole new generation knocking on the door, lead by Alcaraz who already won a Slam. Zverev is coming back, Tsitsipas, Kyrgios, Felix (Aliassime) is playing really well, Sinner of course. I do expect a new Grand Slam champion in 2023.
– Do you think it is very difficult for Nadal to show the same results as usual on this European swing?
– It’s gonna be difficult, but if he is healthy, he is a champion and I expect him to play good. You should never count Nadal, Murray, Djokovic out. Nadal has won so many Grand Slams. It’s not gonna be easy, because the competition is tougher, but he is gonna find the way to play good and win big tournaments this year also.
– Why do you think Nadal and Djokovic are still dominating on the big tournaments?
– They are professionals 365 days per year. They have something in the brain that doesn’t belong to humans. They are hungry to become better all the time, they can handle pressure like nobody else. I’m so impressed by the way they are doing this along all this years. Is tough to imagine. They have something special that puts them in the top 3, top 4 of the greatest of all times.
– Is there any young player you would love to train after Wawrinka retires?
– We have a lot of future stars in the Good to Great Tennis Academy. When I’m not with Stan, in Stockholm where I’m based, I’m helping a 11-year-old now from Sweden. She means a big motivation for me because we haven’t had any great Swedish female player. A lot of guys, but never a female top 10 in the world. That’s one goal. I’ve coached almost only males, so would be nice to coach in the WTA.
– Has any top tennis player ask for your services?
– Yes, there have been some.
– I don’t want to answer that question.
If you enjoyed this interview with Magnus Norman, don’t miss this link to many other interviews with the great tennis stars.