EL PAÍS interviewed the 32-year-old champion after his 11th victory at Roland Garros and asked him about the controversy over his recent political statements
“Good morning, how are you?” asks Rafael Nadal, 32, as he sits down with EL PAÍS and other members of the press to discuss his 11th victory at Roland Garros on Sunday. Recently the world’s number one tennis player has been in the Spanish news for more than just his prowess with the racket. It is 10.30am as he sits down to talk to reporters at the Hotel Meliá Tour Eiffel in Paris before leaving for a publicity event with Nike.
Question. Do you think that you need some extra time to fully appreciate what you have just achieved?
Answer. No, I don’t think so. I am aware of it, yet I don’t like to talk much about it, I don’t think it is up to me to do so. It is never easy to talk about oneself.
Q. Do you fear that it was expected of you to win in Paris no matter what?
A. I am 32 and next time I come to compete here, I will be 33. I have come to think that you cannot take anything for granted in life, especially as you reach an advanced age. Honestly, I do not fear it. I have played many times here and it just does not worry me. Anyone in the world of sports knows how hard it is to win once, therefore, each year you have to start from scratch. When you get here you have to face the tournament anew, at least that is how I frame it. This year has been no different. I focus on doing the right thing at each moment and with regard to everything that happens in a long tournament like this one; however, it is true that after winning many times you get an added a sense of security.
Q. When you suffered from hand cramps in the third set, where you afraid of a repeat of the defeat in Australia?
A. I did not have the time to think about that. I was afraid because I was trying to understand what was happening. I thought about how I was on top of the game, I had not won yet but I had a lead and all of a sudden, victory seemed much more complicated.
Q. After so many years and so many victories, what routines do you follow and which have you changed?
A. I always shower in the same shower stall in the locker room, the one furthest to the right; I also always have the locker 159. I haven’t changed much honestly. I have introduced some new things and what I do now may not be the same as what I did eight years ago. I used to get to training 20 minutes early, wrap my hands with bandages and move around a little and that’s all… now I arrive an hour early, I go to the gym, I warm up a lot more seriously. Routines change depending on what is required.
Q. During the tournament you talked about politics. It was brave, you exposed yourself…
A. I didn’t expose anything…
Q. But you have been criticized.
A. Honestly, I did not criticize anybody. The truth is I never criticized anyone. It is normal, when you say anything some people agree and some do not. All I said was that so much has happened in the last two years here in Spain that I would like to vote again. It is not something I thought about after the no-confidence vote, but before. So much has happened that it is not even a personal issue anymore, and I think it would be good for people to be able to decide their future again. That being said, I understand there will be those who like what I said and those who do not. In the end I am just another Spanish citizen, the only difference is that unlike most people, what I say gets broadcast by the media. They say I could have not gotten involved at all, but I don’t like that either. I have always given my opinion with the utmost respect, but some people have come up with some things…
Q. Such as that your style is “soporific and “defensive,” that you have too much brawn, and that you are just a “ball passer,” as a deputy for Podemos said in a tweet?
A. I didn’t insult anybody. To each according to their own mental capacity… I think we live in a country in which opinions should always be respected. His opinion [Isidro López of Podemos] is not really an opinion; I would call it the heat of the moment or something like that… I understand that he might not like my tennis. I have no problem with anybody who does not like my tennis. If he wanted to say that, it’s okay. I have never tried to please everyone. I alawys try to do my best and to work to the best of my ability, making the utmost effort. After that, if someone doesn’t like it, there is nothing I can do.
Q. But doesn’t the “ball passer” insult anger you, especially after winning so much?
A. To put it frankly, no. I’m not going to answer that comment, because I don’t really give a hoot. Maybe if another tennis player like Wilander or McEnroe had said it… Ultimately, we are talking about something that is really outrageous. I don’t think anyone in their right mind could say something that outrageous. It makes me laugh a lot more than it makes me angry. It is just a common insult that 10-year-olds use… We are talking about a sport after all, and the goal is to reach your best within the limits of what is allowed and what is moral, be it playing aggressively or defensively, with counterattacks or with serves and volleys.
Q. Both you and the soccer player Gerard Piqué break with the notion that professional athletes lack social awareness. Does it hurt you that you’ve both been criticized for it?
A. I would say that we are in very different situations, Gerard and I. I ‘m not going to start a debate on that. It is true that unlike Gerard who likes to get very involved, I prefer not to get myself in a mess. All I did was give my simple and humble opinion, the opinion of a regular citizen. I did not give it as Rafa Nadal the professional tennis player, even if it is who I am; I gave it as a Spanish citizen, full stop. Having said this, I think that a good government is being formed, with important ministers, and I wish them the best of luck so that they will guide us down the right road. I have never revealed my political affinities and there is no reason why I should, but I want to make it very clear that, regardless of who is in power, the only thing I really care about is that everyone is in the best possible situation and that the country works in the best possible way. The fewer problems we have in our country, the better.