BEIJING • Rafael Nadal's lifelong mentor, his uncle Toni, has broached the subject of engaging a "super coach" if the 14-time Grand Slam winner fails to recapture his spark next season.
He said the 29-year-old should consider following Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and other players by bringing in a superstar mentor if the turnaround does not come soon.
Calls for Nadal to abandon Toni intensified after he flopped at the French Open, a tournament he had won nine times, and Wimbledon during a dismal run this year.
"I think you need to ask Rafael," Toni said at the China Open in Beijing, when asked if the Spaniard should consider a new mentor.
"But we have a group and I'm the coach of Rafael for ever, since Rafael was three years old... and things were always good for us.
"It's true that this year he's going a little down but I am sure the comeback of Rafael is coming soon. Maybe if next year Rafael is playing not too good, then I think he can think about some changes in his game or in his team."
Top-ranked Djokovic has flourished since adding Boris Becker to his team, winning three Grand Slam titles this year.
Federer, 34, is enjoying an Indian summer under Stefan Edberg.
Andy Murray pioneered the trend when he hired Ivan Lendl as his coach, in what was a surprise move at the time.
It has paid dividends, with the Briton winning two Grand Slam titles and Olympic singles gold.
However, Nadal's set-up has always been unusual.
Toni, despite his lack of credentials when they started out, has forged a career which has made him one of the most successful coaches in tennis history.
After John McEnroe sparked the debate over Nadal's team, Djokovic was one player who leapt to Toni's defence.
"From what I've seen, he's saying it's not necessary," the Serb said at Wimbledon.
Adding that Nadal has won 14 Grand Slam titles, Djokovic noted: "He's one of the best players... with his uncle Toni who has been with him for his entire career."
Nadal himself insists he can get back to the top, and is using the end-of-year swing starting in Beijing as "practice" for next season.
"I think I am working well. I am very motivated to go for that challenge that brings me the chance to overcome a tough situation for me," he said.
"I love that feeling and I am going to fight to make that happen."