Photo: Alexandre Tabaste
Rafael Nadal: "I play with pain"
Source: Le Monde
Translated by @bounzifu
Initially, to interview Rafael Nadal resulted relatively simple. The interview was scheduled in two parts during the Paris Bercy tournament. And then the world number one had to pull out from injury just before his quarter-final... and from the second part of the interview. He went back to Spain immediately to consult his doctor. Many would have given up on the interview, but - rare thing enough on the tour to be highlighted - the Spaniard is a man of his word. So never mind, the interview will end in London, eight days later, at the Masters Cup, the last tournament of the season.
At this stage of your career, if you were to review it, what would it be?
At 18 years old, many people were predicting my career wouldn't be long, because of my style of play. After 16 years on the circuit, I'm still there and very competitive. This is the thing that matters to me the most, beyond all the titles I could win. I don't dwell about the past, I am not the one to feel pity when I have bad luck or lose a title. But Injuries, yes, they impacted (haunted) me.
Your career is punctuated by injuries. Your knee has betrayed you again at Bercy. How do you live with pain on a daily basis?
Most of the time, thanks to anti-inflammatories! No, seriously, it's something you have to learn to live with. It's hard, but at the same time it's part of our daily life ...
Are there days when you play without pain?
Hmm ... [He hesitates] Yes, there is, but the truth is that it doesn’t happen often.
Where is the pleasure then when you play with pain?
The pleasure is related to something else. For me, it is to be competitive, it is to play in front of thousands of people in stadiums that you saw only on television when you were a kid. But at no time I thought of stopping my career because of the pain. Never. For me, on the one hand there is pain, and on the other hand, how far it slows you down, it limits you.
If you have pain that limits your movement and you can’t play at the level you want to, then yes, maybe the question of stopping can arise. But for me, that's not the case: I can handle it, I can play with pain. The problem is when the pain becomes too intense and when you can’t continue to defend your chances.
In 2015, you had gone through a period of doubt. Is it more difficult to remedy a psychological injury?
In my case, it is more difficult to find solutions to my physical injuries. My psychological injury was not very deep. I just had to be patient and work every day to try to regain confidence in my game and chase away that strange feeling that inhabited me. I had never experienced that since the beginning of my career, and it lasted six or seven months, in 2015. I talked about it very often to my team, my family, people I trusted, and I ended up feeling better and better.
In autumn 2016, Roger Federer was at your side to inaugurate your academy in Mallorca. Honestly, would you have imagined that your rivalry would reach new heights?
No of course not. Last year, at this time, we were both trying to heal. He had been away from the circuit for some time, and I, after Roland Garros, I couldn’t play at the level I wanted. These were complicated moments for both of us. We were just thinking about going back to the competition and seeing how things were going to be. And here we are a year later! [The Swiss won the Australian Open and Wimbledon and the Spaniard the other two Grand Slams]
Federer repeats that you will remain his greatest rival, the one who helped him "to progress and become a better player". Would you say the same thing about him?
When you are around players better than you, it helps, of course. At the beginning of my career, the fact that someone like him was ahead of me in the ranking, it was both great and complicated. I achieved a lot of things, but at the same time, on hard court, I was seeing that he was much better than me and that I had a lot of progress to make. So yes, in a way, having players like him, like Novak [Djokovic], helped me.
But on the other hand, I think that all my life, I've always been humble enough to know that I still had things to improve. And I had the right people by my side to tell me things face to face.
You played a double match at the Laver Cup. Does this inspire you to repeat the experience on the tour next season?
I don’t know, I cannot guarantee it, it's hard to project at this point, we haven’t talked about it yet. Being on the same side of the net and playing in the same team was a fantastic experience. For me, these are unforgettable moments and I think for him too. In terms of character and team spirit, our pairing was excellent.
But at no time have I "analysed" him or perceived him as a rival. I saw him just as a colleague, a teammate, I didn’t analyse him at all! The feeling was inevitably more special because it was him and because we lived so much together on the tour but I was just focused on victory, nothing else.
You keep on saying that he is "the best": if you had to borrow a quality, what would it be?
[Without hesitation] The serve. I would pinch his serve, more than his elegance. He plays very aesthetically of course, but I have other assets. In a way, I'm probably more powerful, I can be a little more spectacular in the sense that I sometimes hit winners in positions more difficult than him but of course, he is super-elegant, I’ve never seen anyone play tennis as elegantly as he does.
Your uncle and coach, Toni, said recently that he can see you breaking his record of 19 Grand Slam. Do you think you can?
Honestly, I don’t think much about it. If it happens? Then it will be fantastic. If it doesn’t? I am already more than satisfied by all that I have been able to live since the beginning of my career. You can always feel frustrated that someone has accomplished more than you, but that's not my case.
Chasing this record is not a goal in itself. Of course, I love having records and I would rather have twenty than sixteen. I love competition, but it's useless to have that obsession in mind. To beat this record will be difficult. It's more likely that I cannot do it than the other way around. It will depend a lot on my physical condition, if I can be free from injuries...
He beat you the four times you played this year. You were, until then, his "bête noire (nemesis)". We have the impression that it's the opposite now ...
No, I think I can beat him again. We met only on hard this season, and this surface is more favourable to him. In Australia, it was very very close. In Indian Wells, his level of play was incredible, and in Miami, I had my chances too. But in our last match, in Shanghai, he was really above.
He played aggressively on a surface he likes, maybe on clay he would have been different... But it doesn’t mean that the next time I face him, I will tell myself that I have no chance to beat him... I'm sure I can beat him again, but for that, I'll have to be at my best, especially on hard.
The "modern" game, embodied in particular by the German Alexander Zverev or the Australian Nick Kyrgios, bores you?
Times are changing ... The new generation of players have different personalities from ours, they probably don’t like the sport in the same way as we do and don’t have the same ways of working. But to be honest, I think Kyrgios is a good client for the show. I don’t know if he is an example for children, but for the game, yes, his is spectacular, he has assets that others don’t have.
What strikes me the most with this new generation is that they hit the ball super strong each time, to the detriment of the strategy. But strategy is trying to find a winner on every point. If you ask me the question as a tennis enthusiast and not as a player, I would say that I prefer to watch another style of tennis. But it's not for me to judge, it's up to the ATP [Association of Professional Tennis Players] and the International Tennis Federation to decide on courts, balls and rules.
Precisely, in order to avoid in the future to have games reduced to aces, what do you suggest?
It's not on me to suggest anything. But I think there are things to consider. Not in my interest, because I'm lucky that everything works incredibly for me, but, let’s say, in the next ten years. Players are getting taller and the height of the net, for example, remains the same...
I don’t think it's a good thing for the show that the points are getting so fast. The public prefers to see spectacular points, long rallies, when the physical part has an impact on the points... If the game comes down to serves only or a 2 shots exchange, I don’t believe that fans will continue to enjoy tennis.
France is at the same time the country where you have the most success but also the most critics. Do you feel that you have a paradoxical relationship with this country?
There are two things. The first is that I feel inevitably closer to France than other countries, since we are neighbours. And I have always felt kindness since my first tournaments here, as a kid. [At this exact moment, Yannick Noah passes in front of him, the two men greet each other cordially] There are always people who criticize, but when it goes too far, you must say stop, as for Roselyne Bachelot [the former minister of sports had suggested in 2016 that a positive anti-doping test of the tennis champion would have been passed under silence], who I decided to sue in Court for defamation. Yes, of course it affects me and saddens me when I hear that kind of thing, but I never thought it was French, it's just a story of people.
You said that once this case has been decided (the verdict will be known on November 16th), you would be ready to make your anti-doping tests public. Do you plan to do it?
I said that I would like transparency to be the rule when it comes to anti-doping. That when one submits to a control, as it was still my case the day I pulled out of Bercy, the result is made public. That anti-doping authorities say: "Rafael Nadal has undergone a control today, which turned out to be negative.” For me, that would change a lot of things. One would not wonder anymore about how many controls such player must undergo, if he has too much controls or not enough. At least there, everyone would have the numbers.
What do you say to those who, like her, are more sceptical because your game is more physical than others?
I can answer to people who are involved in our sport and who speak the same language as us, but I have nothing to say to those who know absolutely nothing about tennis. In the case of Bachelot, I decided to take the case to justice and it will be the justice who will respond. I am tired of hearing such things that harm my honour and cause damages.
You had taken a stand against the referendum on the independence of Catalonia. How did you react to the proclamation of independence on October 27?
First of all, independence is not effective. Then I really love Catalonia and, in Spain, everyone loves Catalans deeply. I was born in a democratic country, I believe in democracy, in our country and in our people. I want to believe that at some point, the crisis will be solved. The most important thing for me is that things don’t get out of hand, that it doesn’t turn into violence. I respect all the sensibilities, but I would prefer that the Catalans stay with us. We are stronger united than divided.