Our collective memory is full of milestones, situations and characters that connect us and help maintain social cohesion. We tend to cling to these day-to-day references to reassure us that we’re still alive, that we haven’t steered off course. That we are part of something bigger than ourselves. Rafa Nadal is one of these icons, an anchor that has a lot more to tell us about besides his athletic success. He goes beyond that. Nadal has become a cultural icon thanks to his humility, despite his grandeur, and thanks to his sportsmanship, despite competing in an individual discipline, which is, by definition, selfish. Also thanks to his modesty and accesibility, despite the fact that he has long been an established star. Nadal will be remembered as one of the best players in the History of tennis, of course, but also as a role model who serves as an example of how to handle failure, and, especially, success.
By now, you may well have lost count of how many years you’ve been at the top. What drives you to pick up the tennis racket each day?
- The main thing that drives me to train each day is my passion for the sport and for competition. It’s something I like, so I enjoy doing it. It’s true I’ve been at it for years, and I can’t say i am the same as day 1 of my career, because it’s different now. But I still have this desire to better myself and keep improving my game.
Your mental fortitude seems intact. And your mindset has no doubt benefited from experience. Is the battle you’re now fighting against your own body? This year, you cancelled your tour of Asia because of your knee…
- No, no, the whole issue of injuries is a hindrance, it doesn’t benefit me. In my case, I wish I hadn’t had injuries, or at least not so many of them. Injuries limit your capacity to compete.
How do you adapt your tennis playing to face the future after so many years of competing at the top and with so many younger players threatening to kick the door down.
- We all need to adapt to the times. No just in sports, but in any other area of life. As far as tennis is concerned, it’s normal for players improve in their game and become more well-rounded players, so we have to keep getting better ourselves to stay at the top.
What professional challenges have you set for yourself for the next two or three years?
- It’s hard to say. The main thing is to have physical endurance and be in shape to compete at the highest level.
How has tennis changed since you first began, when you were a child player going from tournament to tournament within the Balearic Islands?
- Tennis in general has changed a lot over these years. That’s normal, it's a law of nature in this sport. Evidently, my tennis playing has also evolved in every sense. It has changed in just about every respect, including technical aspects. But especially as far as speed.
Do you see any young players in the circuit who might be ready to take over the baton from the historic Nadal-Federer-Djokovic triad?
- There are a lot of players with great potential, but then you have to be there in every tournament and be constant. Maybe this constancy is still missing, but there’s definitely a lot of quality. It would be hard to point out one or two players in particular. Like I said, there are many.
Do you remember the first tournament you won?
- Yes, of course. My first ATP professional tournament was in Sopot, Poland. My first Grand Slam was Roland Garros.
What has been your most special tournament since that 2004 Davis Cup?
- Fortunately, there have been many very special tournaments. I couldn’t possibly forget any of them. But no doubt Roland Garros is very special for me. Also Wimbledon 2008 with Federer, and Monte Carlo and Barcelona, two tournaments with a deep-rooted tradition behind them. Or my first tournament in Madrid, which was in an indoor court… I mean, I’ve had the chance to celebrate wins in many different places.
You’ve created the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in order to not only initiate young players in the racket sport, but also teach them everything you’ve learned throughout your career. What are the fundamental rules that should be engraved in every student’s soul?
- There are many, because, when it comes to athletic education, the work cannot be limited to simply teaching them to hit a ball or physical training. We try to transmit values that are also important for a person’s life. These are values that must also be present in sport.
Your professional career has very close ties to the Balearic Islands. You own several businesses with Abel Matutes Prats, including the restaurant Tatel, where Cristiano Ronaldo is also a partner. How would you defi ne the restaurant’s concept?
- I see it as a modern and contemporary concept. Traveling around the world playing tennis has given me the chance to visit many places with good restaurants, and I’ve tried concepts that I really liked a lot. Whenever I’m in Madrid, I usually have dinner at Tatel.
And, in November, you’re also opening your academy at Mexico’s new showpiece hotel, Palladium’s Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres Resort & Spa. What makes this new collaboration so noteworthy?
- I think it’s a very interesting project in a beautiful place that will captivate anyone who visits it. I think that our center at this hotel will be very interesting for all tennis fans.
You are directly involved in your tennis academy, which is based in Manacor, in Mallorca. What advice would you give children, youngsters or adults who decide to sign up?
- Yes, of course I’m involved. That’s crucial. To date, I’ve gotten very involved as far as the concept, and right now I’m training there. And when I’m not participating in a tournament, it’s also my training base. But I also like to be with the kids, train with them and participate in activities.
With this collaboration with Palladium, you’re innaugurating a new concept of sports tourism that focuses on top-level tennis.
- Yes, that’s right. And we’re opening the first center at Costa Mujeres. I think it’s going to be quite a hit, a real revolution.
What does this sort of highly demanding professional training contribute to a vacation in a paradise such as Costa Mujeres?
- I think this formula offers the perfect combination between lounging at the beach on vacation and just the right amount of tennis for various levels.
What do you value the most about a partner when it comes to opening a business?
- There are many things to take into account. Evidently, loyalty is an important factor. As is friendship. And, above all, know-how and being a good fit.
You are very familiar with Ibiza and Formentera, both their beaches and their leisure offerings. You have often been seen at Usuhaïa. What do you like about this venue that has revolutionized the market in Ibiza?
- Since I’m from the Balearic Islands, I’m familiar with the islands and I like each and every one of them. Ibiza is world- famous, and Usuhaïa has managed to become a world leader. I think it offers one of the best atmospheres you can possibly find.
What do you think about the impact Usuhaïa has had in the hotel and music worlds? The brand is known all over the world.
- It has managed to position itself worldwide and become known everywhere, and it’s also helped promote Spain and Illes Balears.
Do you like electronic music?
- Not as much as I like Latin and Spanish music, to be honest...
After so many years of traveling almost every week, have you developed an aversion to airplanes or hotels? What is, for you, the worst part about living out of a suitcase?
- No, no, I have no aversion at all. I think those of us who are at the top of the tennis world are tremendously fortunate, because we stay at good hotels and travel in comfortable airplanes. We are very fortunate, because we make a living doing the thing we love most. That’s the case with me.
Do you have as many obsessions in your day-to-day life as you do on the tennis court?
- Not as many… but I do have some, which I’m not about to share (laughter).
What advice would you give parents of players with potential to reach the top?
- Above all, that it should be something the boy or girl wants to do, and that they should enjoy it. You shouldn’t force them in that sense. It should be enjoyable for the child.
I understand you could have been a good soccer player and that you’re a loyal fan of Real Madrid.
- I don’t know about that… Although, it I do really like soccer and I wasn’t all that bad. But I’m glad I chose tennis…
You know Cristiano Ronaldo. Are you sorry he left Real Madrid? Don’t you think Real Madrid will benefit from not having to play for a single player?
- Yes, I know him and I think he’s done great things for Real Madrid. He’ll always be part of the history of the club.
One of your passions is the sea. And your friends. How do you imagine life after retirement?
- I really like the sea, and I go sailing whenever I have the chance. That’s nothing new, I’ve liked it since I was a child.