After winning yet another Roland Garros tournament in Paris, Rafa Nadal returned to Mallorca a champion and was willing to hand MARCA an exclusive retrospective interview on his successes.
The Spaniard gave an honest account of where he sees himself among the best in the business, as well as commenting on his overall experience in the French Open and other personal matters.
The conditions surrounding the tournament this year were different to previous ones due to the cold, rain, balls and humidity... did you ever feel like you wouldn't win?
- Every time I come here, I think it may be the year where I don't win. I come with the illusion of winning even though the logical thing is not to. You may think that the natural thing is for me to win here, seeing how many times I've done it, but actually not winning is normal. I always keep that in mind. I said from day one this year, due to conditions, that this was the most challenging Roland Garros. Also you have to take into account the fact my preparation over the last six months has been practically zero tournament-level tennis.
You looked sadder than at other times, is that because of the pandemic that is impacting the entire globe?
- I wasn't necessarily sad, it was more a case of feeling a little off. We're in a sad moment in which you can't share things with the people you love. This is a more unpleasant situation than what we are used to, but you can't isolate yourself from what is happening in the wider world. I know that in Spain we're in a complicated situation. I feel bad for what is happening because it's unheard of in our lifetime. I know there have been pandemics in the past, but in recent history we haven't experienced them. When I had to be happy, focused and have the competitive attitude, I did, and this is what I am most satisfied with from this tournament.
Djokovic recognised that you passed him on a tactical level. What aspects of your game did you modify to so superior?
- My last match on clay with him was in Rome, I remember that I didn't head into it in a good position, but I think I played very well. I took that match as a reference and we came out with more or less of a clear idea of what we wanted the match to be. Then comes the most complicated part, which is putting it into practice. Luckily it was one of those days that the idea was put into practice because my tennis was feeling really good.
Bjorn Borg's energy ran out at 26 despite being a great champion, you are 34, how have you managed to keep that energy?
- Like everyone, I have had good moments, bad moments and disappointments, especially when there have been more physical problems than is normal. In the end, I have been fortunate to have a fantastic family and team throughout my career who have helped me in times when I really needed that help. The fact of having a stable personality, neither being overexcited when things are going well and not being excessively negative when things aren't going well, helps me to live through tennis with a little more peace of mind.
What do you think of the impact your win has had on the whole world at the present time? Iga Swiatek also complimented you, who also won the women's Roland Garros.
- I don't know what my victory has meant because I haven't had the opportunity to see practically anything. At the sporting level, something important was achieved because one of the most important tournaments in the world has been won 13 times. I am tied with 20 Grand Slam titles with Federer, and people have been talking about all this for a long time. I hear what champion Swiatek said, I congratulate her too.
Can you explain how you have lived the months prior to returning to competition without a clear objective?
- The last months have been difficult because you're living with ongoing problems on a social and personal level. It's a reality that after lockdown I had two bad months. My body wasn't responding in the best possible way, I have spent many weeks not being able to train very much, and also with unpleasant bodily sensations when I could actually workout. All this combined without having clear objectives made the problem worse. I've had the right people on my side who encouraged me when I really needed it. Difficult decisions had to be made, such as going to New York or not. Everything is either good or bad depending on the final results. Now that I've won Roland Garros everything seems to be good. If I'd have lost then perhaps everything wouldn't be that way. That is the pure reality of sport.
You have won practically everything, what is left to do or win?
- What remains for me is to continue enjoying the day-to-day. I'm a lucky person for all the things that happen to me for so many years. Life, until today, has smiled down upon me. What remains to be achieved? You will see what remains to do, but the idea is to move forward because if you don't have the belief in what you're doing then it's time to dedicate yourself to something else. As long as I maintain the idea of competing in tennis, then I shall do so.
You tapped your shoes three times before serving, is this being incorporated into your regular routines on the court now?
- The court was more slippery than usual this year and it was necessary to remove the dirt. On the first day of training, I slipped quite a few times and Carlos told me 'remember to do that before every point, because the dirt gets caught in your shoe.' It wasn't a pre-meditated routine, but it was simply about improving my movement.
Can you say that you're the best in tennis history?
- No, no. That is debatable. In the end, the figures have to be analysed by people who know the history of tennis well. Honestly, it doesn't matter too much to me. I'm happy with my career. It's clear that at this moment I am within the two best players. From here we will see what happens with Novak, we will see what happens to Federer when he returns to the sport. Luckily, I think we will have time to analyse all the data when our careers finish.
You have left your mark in Paris, but has playing there put your preparation for the Australian Open at risk?
- I have to think about things a lot. Decisions, today more than ever, have to be taken calmly and with strong analysis of every situation. You have to make the right decisions more than ever, both personally and professionally. I need a little time to know when my next tournament will or will not be. In the next few days, I will make a decision and make it known.
After having been locked between the hotel and the courts for 20 days, what do you want to do right now?
- Return to a normal life. If I want to go and play golf then I will go and play golf. I want to have a more normal life than in the last 20 days, seeing people that I haven't been able to see for all this time.
Will Roland Garros change a lot next season with the night session?
- Seeing more change than this year is difficult to imagine. The temperature and conditions have made the tournament exceptional. There have already been night sessions, what happens is that we trust in June that it will not be this temperature. I personally am not a fan of night sessions on clay because that's when the condition are the most challenging. I understand that we're in a very difficult situation economically and I suppose that for the business of the tournament doing a double-session will be good.
How have you adjusted to playing without a crowd?
- If I'm honest, there has been an atmosphere of sorts here. There were some people and in the final there were people in the front rows. Even my family and team were on my bench, so that perspective was different. In Rome it was much sadder, only two people were on the bench and the rest of the court was empty. It was a much more unpleasant sensation.
Does it make you feel even more proud that Federer, whom you equal in Grand Slams, was the first to congratulate you?
- Federer and I have a very, very good relationship which started many years ago. In a way we have great respect for each other, we have shared many of the most important moments of our careers competing against each other. In the end, a rivalry has been generated that has gone beyond what pure tennis is and whether you like it or not, we value that and appreciate it in a unique way. We have a good personal relationship and to tie him on 20 titles means a lot to me.
What is the key to getting along with someone you compete with for everything?
- It is a matter of rationalising everything. We're playing tennis, nothing else. It's more pleasant to have a good relationship with your rivals than if you're in a constant fight with them. Being able to go through the dressing room in a pleasant environment, talking to each other, makes life in tournaments more pleasant.
Tournaments are going through financial problems as a result of the pandemic, how long do you think tennis can last without crowds?
- I don't think that it will last much longer because it is causing a complex economic situation. However, the priority has to be the health of people. For tournament organisers it is an untenable position if this takes too long. Let's hope that a solution can be found as soon as possible so that we can return to a more logical and happier life.
Source: MARCA English