Off the sandy shore of Cancun’s Mediterranean coastline, Rafa Nadal has stamped out a tennis paradise.
Ever since the opening of the Rafa Nadal Academy in Mallorca, Spain, in 2016, Nadal has taken his successful partnerships with Movistar and Grand Palladium and turned his popular academy into an expanding global footprint. A Nadal-specific footprint that spans Europe, Asia and North America.
“Rafa Nadal is a strong name,” Alex Praderas, manager for the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre in Cancun, Mexico, the only Nadal tennis center in North America and one connected to the five-star Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa, tells me about the expansion. “I believe it is a powerful name and players come here for the name.”
Praderas, born and raised on the island of Mallorca, formerly worked at the academy in Spain. He came to Cancun in 2018 to help launch the official opening of the center in 2019. Now, with the Spain academy as the main hub, Nadal has expanded to Mexico, Greece and Hong Kong. And he’s doing so with a unique approach at each location.
“We don’t consider ourselves an academy,” Pradersas says, “we are a tennis center. This is a vacation option for short-term stays. We do teach the same levels and the same type of clinics.” While the Spain academy plays a key role in providing boarding and schooling for juniors, along with adult classes, the tennis center strategy places a focus on clinics and private lessons, short-term programs that make the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre an ideal tennis tourist destination.
While past players or coaches have opened various academy or center sites, none has expanded as fully as Nadal. And certainly, no active player has created such a business focus as Nadal, carving a niche in the tennis tourist space.
“We are in the midst of expanding the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre concept globally and we have properties in Mexico, Greece and Hong Kong,” says Carlos Costa, responsible for the expansion of the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar. “Nevertheless, it is a very selective process as we want to maintain the number of centers small in order to preserve their unique character.”
The Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre in Cancun features eight floodlit clay tennis courts, three of which come covered. It also includes a padel tennis court, a seven-a-side soccer field and a direct connection to the Grand Palladium site, an all-inclusive resort located on the beach in Cancun with 660 suites, four swimming pools, a spa, nine a la carte restaurants and 19 bars, shops and an amphitheater.
“We have a first-class level tennis center, and I would say that throughout the entire region it is difficult to find an equivalent sports facility that allows you to play tennis while being at a resort that offers so many possibilities,” Nadal says. “The idea is to be able to combine sport with nature by implementing tennis programs carried out by the Rafa Nadal Academy. All of these factors make the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre in Costa Mujeres a special and unique place and, honestly, we are very happy to have a center like this in Mexico.”
The Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre also includes its own Nadal-specific shop, café and “Xperience” museum, with the museum crafted as a small recreation of the Xperience in Mallorca with a mixture of Nadal’s trophies and memorabilia. One of the highlights of the museum—apart from trophies highlighting his major victories—is a one-of-a-kind shoe installation hanging from the ceiling that takes hundreds of Nadal’s on-court Nikes and crafts them into the shape of his logo.
As the only connection to Nadal in North America, Praderas says they’ve certainly drawn from the North American market, able to bring Nadal’s Spanish-style of training and coaching to a fresh audience. “In terms of training, it is the methodology and standard as in Spain,” Praderas says. “It does offer a chance for North Americans to come train like they would in Spain. It is a good place to get coaching.”
The Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar training method was developed by Toni Nadal along with the technical team that has been with Nadal throughout his career. The method designs training to prepare the player to think ahead and take the initiative in the game while focusing on mobility, a winning character, intensity in training and matches, a competitive mentality and concentration.
This Spanish-style of training, Praderas says, is often new for the target Cancun customer, typically a recreational, club or USTA league player from the United States or Canada. With a focus on training in real situations, such as coaches volleying instead of feeding, limiting the ratios to one coach for four players, a higher intensity of activity and a focus on instruction instead of encouragement, the Nadal style can offer a singular experience for the North American tennis tourist.
“People love training here, they hear things in a way that may have not been explained,” Praderas says. “The information makes sense and is clear and what we are trying to achieve is maybe not so common in North American training. We try to stay different, make a difference.”
And that has led to repeat customers. Still, though, the Cancun center knows the client is different, so has evolved to create a doubles program specific to the site to cater to the popularity of club-based doubles in North America.
The Nadal business continues to grow. The original site in the town of Manacor on the island of Mallorca now draws over 50,000 visitors annually. From Greece to Hong Kong to Mexico, the concept of the Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre helps Nadal expand on the academy experience in Spain, whether through private lessons, group lessons or the Mexico-specific doubles opportunities. The center features programs for both juniors and adults.
“These tennis complexes are located within high-end holiday resorts at internationally popular destinations,” organizers say. In Cancun, the Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa fits the bill, a resort that was opened in 2018 by the Spanish company.
“The concept of Rafa Nadal Tennis Centre strengthens the reputation and competitive position of the hotels, establishing them as the preferred destination for tennis aficionados and travelers who are seeking top-level sports experiences,” Costa says. “The association with the Rafa Nadal brand not only adds value and prestige to the hotel, but it also creates new revenue-generating opportunities through the entertainment programs, sale of merchandise and, of course, an increase in the number of hotel reservations.”
Spanning 50 acres, the site features both the resort and the TRS Hotel with a canal system connecting it together. A convention center, chapel and Zentropia spa with hydrotherapy features highlight the location on the white beach.
“The goal,” organizers say, “is to perpetuate the international expansion so that the tennis and human spirt of Rafa Nadal can permeate more countries in the years to come.”