L’Equipe: Rafael Nadal, Champion of the World’ Champions: “To be at the Olympic Games in Paris would be a dream”
Crowned Champion of the World’ Champions for the fourth time in his career, tied with Roger Federer and one unit from the absolute record held by Usain Bolt, Rafael Nadal has not given up at all on shining for a few more years on the circuit. The Olympic Games in 2024 at Roland Garros? Why not after all…
Nothing changes in Manacor, a quiet town with 40,000 inhabitants located 60 kilometres east of Palma de Mallorca. Nothing except the “Rafa Nadal Academy” which grows visibly. It was on December 11th. Two backhoes were busy digging down the plot, which will soon be hosting around fifteen additional courts, of which a covered hall with three hard courts and five clay courts sheltered by an awning. At the same time, another impressive machine was snorting on the central court of the Academy. Rafael Nadal was hitting harder and harder against, on the right, Carlos Moya and, on the left, Francisco Roig, his two coaches, in charge of hitting back the rockets.
After four hours of effort, including physics, the world number one returned to its penates around 1:30 p.m., before a busy end of the day, between meetings related to the functioning of his foundation and final preparations for the traditional dinner he organizes each end of the year for the whole team. There were quite a few things to celebrate that evening, in the great hall in the basement of his museum, which had been converted into a giant dining room. Two more Grand Slams (Roland-Garros, US Open), the year-end number 1 and the Davis Cup. And also, maybe be a little, come on, the trophy of the champion of the champions of L’Équipe.
Does it really count when you have 19 Majors on display (about the trophy of Champions of champion)?
“In fact, it is particularly important because of the origin of this award,” says deftly the left-handed man. L’Équipe is the daily sport newspaper reference in Europe and, of course, it is also a prize which comes from France, the most important place in my career, after Spain. It is great satisfaction and I am very grateful. Get to five titles like Bolt? I know it will be very complicated, but don’t worry, I’m already happy to have four.”
Then came the time for the interview without any question but just statements that we confronted him with. He played that game being particularly relaxed. As if time passing appeases him more and more.
“THE EVENING OF YOUR STRAIGHT LOSS AGAINST NOVAK DJOKOVIC IN THE FINAL OF THE OPEN AUSTRALIA, YOU TOLD YOURSELF THAT HE WAS GOING TO WIN THE CALENDAR GRAND SLAM IN 2019.
FALSE – Even if Novak has played super well – and if I haven’t been competitive enough for my taste – I didn’t think about that for a second, because I know how difficult it is. Of course, in absolute terms, Novak would have the ability to do it, but there are so many good players and the year is so long. In any case, this defeat in Melbourne was not at all my worst moment of the year. I had been so far behind throughout the whole match (6-3, 6-2, 6-3) that I couldn’t have any regrets. In fact, I think I hadn’t assumed yet all of the changes in my game – especially the serve, since I was using a new technique to start this season, which had worked well on the previous six matches – when I challenged Novak in the final.
2019 HAS BEEN THE MOST EXTREME, EMOTIONALLY SEASON OF YOUR CAREER. WE’VE SEEN YOU DEPRESSED IN APRIL, IN TEARS IN NEW YORK OR AGAIN IN MADRID…
TRUE – I’m usually an emotional person. But for example, the 2009 season (first title at the Australian Open, first defeat at Roland Garros, divorce from his parents) had been a remarkable year, very tough for me, with many things that had happened. That said, yes, in 2019, I went very, very low, mentally, and I managed to recover and regain my maximum level. From the Madrid tournament in May until the end of the year, I played really well. And since Wimbledon, I have lost only one match (Alexander Zverev, in November, in the group at the Masters), it’s incredible.
THIS YEAR, YOU HAVE 87.5% OF WINS ON CLAY (21W-3L) AND 91.4% ON HARD (31W-3L). IT’S OFFICIAL: YOU ARE NOW BETTER ON HARD THAN ON CLAY.
FALSE – No, no, I am stronger on clay. The stats are what they are, but it was easier to win a lot on hard after winning Rome and Roland Garros. I also had to withdraw before my semi-final from Indian Wells, against Roger (Federer), and before that of Bercy, against (Denis) Shapovalov. I could have lost two more matches, which would have changed the success rates. And then we can also say that my percentage on earth could have been better this year. But I arrived in this period in a not simple state, after a hand injury in Acapulco and a knee injury in Indian Wells … It was too little to attack the clay’s season. But to sum up my way of seeing surfaces: if I’m at my maximum level, I think I have more options to win on clay than on hard.
THE MOMENT WHEN YOU FEEL THE MOST PRESSURE IN 2019 IS BEFORE YOUR SF OF ROLAND AGAINST FEDERER, BECAUSE YOU DON’T ALLOW YOURSELF TO LOSE AGAINST HIM “AT HOME”.
FALSE – It was great to be able to face Federer at Roland-Garros so many years after the last time (2011 final), but I never felt the obligation to win. I was convinced that I was playing well and that I was ready for this match, so there was real confidence that everything was going well. When someone is very confident, the pressure naturally fades away. But remember, the day had been very special, with a monstrous wind. It had complicated the match pretty much. Anyway, to beat Federer, you have to be at your max, this doesn’t change.
IN THE 2000’S YEARS, AND EVEN STILL RECENTLY, YOU HAVE OFTEN SAID THAT FEDERER WAS A BETTER PLAYER THAN YOU. NOW, YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY.
TRUE – Before, for sure, Roger was a more complete player than me, on all surfaces. Nowadays, he is 38 years old, me 33, things have changed. He is obviously a unique player, who has a very special way of playing tennis and understanding it. Now, between the two of us, to define who is the strongest, I think it is often about the form of the moment. If I feel very good and he is just normal, I am better than him, but in the opposite case, he is the best. It would be fair enough to say that there is not much difference between us today. Who has been the best? If I want to be honest, I have to say I don’t know.
YOU HAVE MORE FUN ON A TENNIS COURT NOW THAN FIVE OR TEN YEARS AGO.
TRUE – It’s completely true when it comes to practice. I train with less and less pressure. Before, I was extremely demanding with myself on my training. Be careful, I’m always very demanding, huh, but I really feel less tension in these moments, and it makes me happier.
IN THE TOP 100, ONLY FOUR PLAYERS – JOHN ISNER, MILOS RAONIC, REILLY OPELKA AND ROGER FEDERER – HAVE WON MORE SERVICE GAMES THAN YOU IN 2019. YOU HAVE NEVER FEEL SO STRONG IN THIS GAME AREA.
TRUE – The numbers say it is (smile). There has been a very significant evolution in my serve this season. I believe that each time I served this year, I actually felt more confident than at other times in my career. Nothing is ever completely sure, but I also have the feeling that it is pretty well in place now. In any case, I continue to work for it to be that way. I fully accept this modification because I am aware that at this point of my career, serving well, resting more, will be essential to allow me to continue while remaining very competitive.
YOU HAVE THE BEST VOLLEY IN THE WORLD.
FALSE – (laughs) No, no, I don’t have the best volley in the world. I think I’m a pretty quick player who knows more or less how to construct a point when moving forward. I don’t like to qualify myself. Let’s say I’m not bad at the net because I think I understand what to do there and I make quick decisions. But I’m not going to go off on an adventure to the net either, as Federer can wonderfully do.
WHEN, LAST MONTH, FEDERER OUTMATCHED DJOKOVIC AT THE MASTERS, WHICH ENSURES YOU ENDING AS YEAR NUMBER 1, YOU SCREAMED IN FRONT OF YOUR TV.
FALSE – No, no, I didn’t scream, although obviously, it was an important match for me. I followed it quietly from the sofa, I didn’t make a fist pump either. It’s so different when you’re not on the court to create the result. I was of course very happy because it gave me the number one spot at the end of the year, but it was also because I had achieved a lot of other things since the start of the year.
THE DEBATE ON THE “GOAT” (THE GREATEST PLAYER OF ALL TIME) HAS NO REALLY INTEREST SINCE ONLY THE NUMBER OF TITLES OF THE GRAND CHELEM COUNTS TO DETERMINE IT.
FALSE – I don’t see it that way. Other parameters must be considered, even if of course, the impact of Grand Slam titles is extremely important. Other things in the tennis world deserve to be valued too. I am passionate about sport in general and I really like to discuss this kind of thing, but in other disciplines, such as golf for example. I can talk about Tiger Woods with my friends, but about me, no, we don’t talk about it. When you are yourself involved in this type of debate, it’s really not easy to have an opinion. And even if I have one, it is difficult for me to give it, I would not find it right. There are great experts about this stuff (smile).
NO OTHER PLAYER HAS MADE EVOLVED HIS GAME AS MUCH AS YOU, TO BECOME EXTREMELY PERFORMING IN ALL CONDITIONS.
TRUE – (after hesitation) It could be, yes. I consider myself to be a player in constant evolution, who has always sought to become better on each surface but also to adapt to the limits that all the physical problems during my career have imposed to my body. It is a pride in itself because I always knew how to keep my head open to change. And, each time, with the clear intention of improving things. Training just to train would not make sense. Everything did not always work, and nothing was done in one day, but I never got stuck on the frustration of my mistakes. I believe that it is largely this state of mind that allows me to continue playing today with the same desire.
YOU, A HUGE FAN OF REAL MADRID, HAVE SAVED, ON YOUR OWN, THE COMPETITION OF A BARÇA STAR. WE ARE, OF COURSE, TALKING ABOUT THE DAVIS CUP MADE IN GERARD PIQUÉ.
FALSE – I didn’t save anything, I won a competition with my teammates. There was nothing to save. It was a brand-new event, in which there were good things and others that can improve. It’s still a special competition, the format of which still probably needs to be polished, but I am sure that it will be quite positive for the players and for the fans who will surely travel more in the future. In addition, I don’t consider at all that it is the Cup of a player of the Barça. It is the Davis Cup of the international federation. Simply put, there was a group, led by Gérard Piqué, who wanted to invest in our sport. Whether it is good or not, we will see this in a few years, but we must at least be grateful to them for having both the will and the ambition to put money and time into our discipline. Besides, Gérard called me a while ago, but I didn’t have time at the time, and we will be discussing all of this together soon, over a meal.
IN 2020, ALL GRAND SLAMS WILL BE WON BY PLAYERS LESS THAN 30 YEARS OLD.
FALSE – (smiles). I don’t think so, no. It could happen but, frankly, if I were to bet my money, I would not put it on it. Conversely, I neither believe that the “Big 3″ will still win the four GS. A young player will get there next year.
STEFANOS TSITSIPAS IS THE YOUNG PLAYER WHO MENTAL STRENGTH MADE YOU THE BEST IMPRESSION.
FALSE – Actually, I don’t know. He is very good and he had a fantastic year. But look at (Alexander) Zverev, who had a complicated season and still finishes fairly high in the ranking (7th): that means he is also very strong. (Denis) Shapovalov, what a progress! He’s really getting to the top. And (Daniil) Medvedev, to win as many tournaments in a row, you need mental strength, right?
YOU WOULD HAVE ALREADY RETIRED IF DJOKOVIC AND FEDERER WERE NOT THERE ANYMORE.
JOKER – From my heart, I say I don’t know… This question is not easy, because in the end, what they accomplish may very well have an impact on me. I want to believe that this is not the case, that I maintain my motivation for myself and that it is not related to them. But… no, I cannot answer with 100% certainty to that.
YOU COULD FULLY IMAGINE BECOMING A FATHER BEFORE ENDING YOUR CAREER.
TRUE – I could totally imagine it. But it’s the same, ten years ago, I would have said no. Except that my career has extended pretty much, right?
YOU WILL PLAY THE OLYMPIC GAME IN 2024 AT ROLAND-GARROS.
JOKER – To be at the Olympic Games in Paris would be a dream, but it’s difficult to say right away because there are still many years. Logic would make me say that I will not be there. But beware of logic. You would have told me five years ago that I would have the season I had in 2019, I would have replied that it was impossible. And it is certain that if, at the end of 2009, I had been asked if I would still play at the dawn of 2020, I would have said no. So, logic…”
Translated from L’Equipe by Manouche Barcelona / Twitter: @bounzifu