Rafa Roundup: Rafa hopes his “knees hold up well” on the grass

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“If I have pain in my knees, then I know from experience that it’s almost impossible,” he said. “After 2012 what happened with my knees has made it tougher and tougher for me to compete on grass.”

“It’s been a while since I played a good Wimbledon,” Nadal admitted. “I love grass. Everybody knows that. It’s a surface that I really enjoyed playing on a lot. I missed playing Wimbledon again [last year], so I hope that my knees will hold up well and that I can have the preparation that I really need and want.”

He added: “I need to have strong and powerful legs to play well at Wimbledon. If I don’t feel that, then probably my chances are not good. But if I am healthy and I am able to have the right preparation and feel healthy during Wimbledon, then I will probably have my chances to play well.”

But Rafael Nadal reminds us that the best in any sport exceed not just our expectations of what an athlete can do physically, but what a human can do mentally. Nadal cares, with superhuman seriousness, about every game, every shot. You cannot coach a player to want to win as much as Nadal wants to win. It has to arise from some roiling, unquenchable, internal compulsion to be great.

What we saw over the last two weeks has been a nearly annual ritual since 2005, and barring catastrophic injury, it isn’t going anywhere soon. At 31, Rafa is not what he was at 21; revisit the highlights and this man wouldn’t be confused for his younger, even more yoked, faster self. But it is still more than good enough to dominate the current ecosystem. So long as he keeps finding ways to return to the tour healthy, and so long as the younger generation continues to struggle under the onerous slab of talent that is the Big Four, these titles will still be Nadal’s to win (and bite). Ten is a nice, clean number, but it is hardly a finish line unto itself.

Much has changed since his first victory at Roland Garros in 2005, the year of his first appearance in the tournament. Back then, Nadal was partial to sleeveless shirts and pirate pants, Court Philippe Chatrier had no aerial camera, and a fan could enter Roland Garros Stadium without being frisked by security officials.

The world is very different, but the men’s game has remained surprisingly resistant to change. Nadal’s career-long rival, Roger Federer, beat him to win the Australian Open in January at age 35. Now Nadal has won another French Open, closing the gap with Federer in the standings for career Grand Slam singles titles.

Nadal is 79-2 at Roland Garros. What may be most impressive is the fact that, on a court where he had never been beloved, he has won all 10 finals he has played without ever having to go to a fifth set. He has tamed his nerves every time, weathered rallies by his opponents every time, and closed the door early every time.

How does a player win a tournament 10 times? I said it after Rafa won La Décima in Monte Carlo this spring, and I’ll say it again after his La Décima in Paris: By playing every match as if it’s his last, and celebrating every win as if it’s his first.

“I was terribly surprised to win the Australian Open and then back it up in Indian Wells and Miami,” Federer said, “but I think Rafa winning the French Open is less of a surprise because he’s already done it nine times before, now 10, which is absolutely gigantic. It was incredible, really, simply that.

“I was hoping that he was going to dominate the clay court season like he did in the olden days.”

PHOTOS: French Open: Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros evolution | CNN

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Rafa Roundup: “You can win some battles against Rafa, but in the end he always wins the war”

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We first met Rafa Nadal in Paris as a swashbuckling teenager – a champion from the very first swing of that prodigious left arm. He is now 30, but still the man to beat. A titanic, immovable presence whose imprint on his sport needs no enhancing… but who may yet extend one of sport’s most remarkable periods of dominance.

“Being the favourite depends on your results and your fitness,” says Corretja. “And if he stays fit, it is very difficult to compete with Rafa in his current form. Look at the Madrid final – Thiem played at a very high level, but in the second set he started to drop physically. This is normal because he played the first set at a very high tempo. Nadal is used to this rhythm but his opponents are not. He drags you into a battle on every point. You can win some battles against him, but in the end he always wins the war. I believe he is ready to win it again.”

Were Nadal to end the next fortnight triumphant, it would be an unprecedented feat — no player in the open era has reached double digits in a single grand slam event.

Roger Federer and Pete Sampras have seven Wimbledon titles, Martina Navratilova nine. Nadal already stands alone with nine titles on the Parisian red dirt, a tournament in which he has lost only two matches since his debut as a 19-year-old in 2005.

Why did we ever doubt him? Nadal has produced his best run on the red stuff since 2010, winning the joint-highest number of Masters (30) and reaching the most finals (45).

A player who is revered inside the dressing room as much as he is from the stands, winning a 10th French Open would be a feat unlikely to be equalled or surpassed for generations to come, if not ever.

Photo: Richard Mille

Tennis great Rafael Nadal is already a favorite to win the upcoming French Open – and now he has another reason to be excited about the tournament: He’ll be wearing his new, $725,000 watch. Luxury watchmaker Richard Mille, which has sponsored and worked with Nadal since 2010, has unveiled its latest collaboration. Like all Richard Mille watches, the design has an unassuming name, the RM 27-03, yet it’s a technical marvel.

Many people wrote off Nadal, who hasn’t won a Grand Slam in three years, but Wawrinka never doubted the 14-time major champion.

“I’ve known Rafa since he was young, I saw him winning time after time. He had so many injuries but he always came back, since he was really young. I think he missed the first Roland Garros he was supposed to play because of a foot injury. And the next year he played his first French Open and won it,” said Wawrinka.

“So I never thought he would be out or less competitive because we all know that when he comes back, fit and ready, he’s tough to beat.”

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Rafa Roundup: A long way to La Decima at Roland Garros

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The Spaniard capped a record-breaking two-week stretch, which saw him become the first player to win 10 titles at a tour-level event in Monte-Carlo and repeat the feat on his native clay of Barcelona. He has won 20 of 21 sets thus far on the European clay-court swing.

“I’m very satisfied. It’s been an emotional day for me. Winning a 10th title here is something difficult to describe. Playing in front of my crowd and my club and winning the 10th title here is something that’s impossible to even dream of. It’s very special and unique,” said Nadal. “I played my best match of the tournament this afternoon against probably the toughest opponent in the tournament, so I’m very happy.”

Toni Nadal: “… So you can understand that given what Roland-Garros represents to us Spaniards, winning 10 times in Paris would be… (he exhales, then spreads his arms out wide) enormous. … Yes. Because it would be the tenth. And also because every time Rafael wins Roland-Garros, we can then say already that he’s had a great season. … So yes, it’s true, we’re very confident at the moment. But maybe if Rafael loses in Madrid, we’ll be less confident. We’ll see! A lot of things can still happen by the time Roland-Garros comes around.”

… Nadal has to prove that he can beat Djokovic again before he can be considered the favorite. He’s lost his last seven matches to the Serb, including three on clay, dating back to Roland Garros in 2014. In those seven matches, Nadal has been unable to win a set.

Last year Rafa said his only regret was that, just at the moment when he was playing his best, during the clay swing, he hurt his wrist. Like last year, he has started that swing with wins in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. In 2016, Nadal finally met Djokovic in the semifinals in Rome, and he lost a classic. I could go for another showdown like that in the next couple of weeks.

Nadal, who was just 15 years old at the time, had only played three matches going into his first ATP event, one at the Futures level and two at the Challenger level, and he was ranked a lowly No.762.

But that first ATP event being held on home soil in Mallorca may have given him the boost he needed, as he beat No.81-ranked Ramon Delgado in straight sets in his first ever ATP-level match, 6-4 6-4.

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AUDIO: Alex Corretja: ‘Nadal favourite for French Open’ | BBC

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Rafa Roundup: “It’s difficult to think about Roland Garros now”

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“It really is unbelievable. To win 10 times at such an important event like Monte-Carlo, it’s something difficult to describe my feelings,” Nadal said. “I feel lucky to keep playing tennis [and] being healthy all those years, in order to compete in one of the most beautiful events of the year, without a doubt. I am very happy to win another one. For me, it is a very important day in my career.”

“But I never take Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, Madrid like a preparation for one tournament. These tournaments are so important for [themselves]. Then Roland Garros arrives later. Is difficult to think about Roland Garros now.”

But, when he was asked to contemplate what 10 titles at Roland Garros would mean, Nadal smiled.

“I want it,” he said.

“Thanks to life,” Rafa said, looking upward, “for giving me this great opportunity.”

Thanks to life; thanks to his own life, and how consistently he has lived it. Even with his unprecedented success on clay, and his reputation as the best male player on that surface secure, Nadal still wants to win every tournament on it as desperately as ever. The surest sign of spring in tennis is the sight of Rafa bouncing back from whatever struggles he has endured over the course of the year and dominating again. Nothing in the last 14 years has dimmed that desire.

Nadal says each title in Monte Carlo has felt different. But you don’t reach La Décima without playing the same way—as if every match is your last, and every win is your first.

Q. Did Rafa tell you anything?
DAVID GOFFIN: No. Rafa has nothing to do with this. He knows his forehand was heavy and long and deep. But he was on the other side of the court. He couldn’t do anything about it.

Rafa is one of the most fair players on the tour. He was just playing his match. I have nothing against him.

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  • King of Clay Rafael Nadal: Ten Monte-Carlo Titles | TennisTV

Rafa Roundup: Rafael Nadal prepared for clay

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Since 2009, Nadal has gained an average of 2,448 points at the four biggest clay tournaments before Roland Garros: the three Masters 1000 tournaments – Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Mutua Madrid Open, Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome – and the Barcelona Open Banco Sabadell, an ATP World Tour 500 event. At the four tournaments, Nadal has won a combined 29 titles.

Should Nadal claim the top spot in the Race, it’s likely he will have captured at least one title from either Monte-Carlo, Barcelona or Roland Garros – the three events he has won a record nine times each. The Spaniard is the only player in the Open Era to have won a tournament nine times. If he were to win the trio of tournaments for a record 10th time, he’d stamp his legacy on the game – and on the clay – once more.

“This is an important event. It’s one of my favourite events of the year without a doubt. Monte-Carlo is unique for me. I’m trying to work as much as I can to be ready for the competition and adjust my game again to clay.

“I am excited to be here. I started slow to adapt to the clay, hitting for 45 minutes, then one hour and one hour and 30 minutes for the first few days. I did what I needed to avoid the risk for injuries. With more practise, I remind myself how to win the points, how to defend and how to move. It’s a process. Things are not that easy. It takes time. I decided to not play on clay in February this year so it’s a little different.”

It’s been a brilliant 2017 for Rafael Nadal, who reached his first major final since 2014 at this year’s Australian Open. Though Nadal has been unable to solve the riddle of Roger Federer in the season’s first three months, he has nonetheless built a great deal of momentum, going 19-5 with three Top 10 wins and two hard court finals to his name.

Now, if the Spaniard can take the next step and summon that savage clay-court form of year’s past, then he might have a real chance to do serious damage over the next two months. The Spaniard thinks he’s ready to do just that.

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  • Monte-Carlo Masters: Pre-tournament presser photos

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Rafa Roundup: Here’s why Rafael Nadal is playing doubles with Bernard Tomic in Indian Wells

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“If the top players are not playing very often, then you are making something not good – you need to change. But the ITF always thinks on the small picture,” Nadal added.

He called the competition “a beautiful competition, a very emotional competition”. He also proposed a massive lengthening of the format, producing a winner only every three years.

“I don’t mean one-year Davis Cup, one year no Davis Cup. I mean, for example, two ties per year. That will be something reasonable and players will be very motivated to play Davis Cup.”

“I was a little bit sick for two days, so I couldn’t practise. I started to practise yesterday for the first time. Today, I practised again and I have doubles. It is obvious that when you get sick you lose a little bit of the power for a couple of days. So I hope to recover myself well and feel ready to compete at the highest level possible.”

… “I play doubles for fun and to practise too,” Nadal added. “I was supposed to play with Bernard in Brisbane. That made sense, because it’s his house and for me it was something that I liked. But then I said to him that I could not play there. I said if we can change Brisbane for Indian Wells, will be great for me. That’s it.”

“Toni is completely free like he has always been, to take his own decisions and to choose what makes him happiest,” Nadal told the media in Acapulco. “I am comfortable with what he decides is best for him.

“I feel better when people who I love are happy and if it makes him happy, for me it’s OK. Before being my coach, Toni is my uncle. He has been with me for a lifetime and the relationship with him has been a little bit more special than the one I have with my other uncles because I have lived everyday with him and I am very grateful to him for all the things he did for me.”

“Obviously yes, for sure, everyone was surprised. But it’s not easy travelling on the tour for so many years,” said Murray in Dubai.

“I know he hates flying, I’ve been on a couple of planes with him and I know he doesn’t enjoy the travelling. Rafa is 31 this year and he was on the tour since he was 16, so it’s been 15 years of travelling on the tour and a lot of time before that as well.

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Rafa Roundup: Fans surprised, excited by Rafa’s choice of doubles partner

Fiona Hamilton/Tennis Australia
Fiona Hamilton/Tennis Australia

The official acceptance list for the Indian Wells doubles draw was finalised on Monday, and an unusual pairing caught everyone’s eye.

Rafael Nadal and Bernard Tomic will team up for the first time and have used their singles rankings to gain entry into the field.

Both Nadal and Tomic have doubles rankings outside the top 100, but their ability to use their singles rankings – No.6 for Nadal and No.31 for Tomic – put them ninth-highest on the entry list with a combined ranking of 37.

“It did surprise me a bit,” Ferrer said. “I am pretty sure he will have his own thoughts and there is still a long way to go this year. Maybe what he thinks now will change at the end of the season. It would be sad not to have Toni on the circuit.”

… “It makes me so happy seeing Roger and Rafa back at their best level,” he said. “They give a lot to this sport and as a fan of tennis, I like to watch them. Besides, Rafa is a great mate and I have played almost all my career alongside him and Roger. So the longer they go, much better.”

On his path to becoming one of the greatest to ever play the game, Rafael Nadal has had his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, there with him every step of the way.

… It’s impossible to predict what will happen next in Nadal’s career, but there’s still a long season with Uncle Toni left to go, and no one can count him out on the Parisian clay.

Peter Fleming: “Rafa is a creature of habit – he needs structure – and I do think that he was caught off guard when Toni said ‘I’m not doing this next year’. I think Rafa probably took a little time to get accustomed to it but it’s an opportunity for growth.

“Carlos Moya, who grew up in Mallorca, and was Rafa’s idol growing up as a kid is now in the team as his coach and Francisco Roig has been there for many years on a part-time basis.

“It’s not like Toni’s job is really crucial to the team – I think it will be fine.”

Rafael Nadal covers the latest issue of Gentleman Ecuador
Rafael Nadal covers the latest issue of Gentleman Ecuador

The Swiss tennis great made the confession at the unveiling of the new tournament scheduled for Prague in September which will pit a Bjorn Borg-captained European team against John McEnroe’s rest of the world.

Federer, who beat Nadal in an epic five-set Australian Open final last month, admitted on Monday: “I’ve always wanted to play with Rafa… just because our rivalry has been so special.

Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are still the top two men’s players in the world, respectively, and Roger Federer won his 18th Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month. But none of those players, in Boris Becker’s mind, are the favorites to win the French Open. Rafael Nadal is the man to beat in Roland Garros.