World No. 1 Rafa Nadal, World No. 2 Novak Djokovic and five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova joined forces today to prove why the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, which runs until December 21, is ‘the best’ in regional tennis.
Swapping the hardcourts of Abu Dhabi’s International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City for the natural white sand beaches of Saadiyat Island, the trio were challenged to knock down seven giant letters spelling ‘THE BEST’ using only 36 balls, or 12 each – a nod to the 12th edition of the Arabian Gulf’s most intimate tennis experience.
Sharapova was the first to find her range, knocking over the first letter with a crunching forehand. The global superstar’s shot inspired the trio, who have amassed a collective 40 Grand Slam titles between them, to blast through the remaining six letters with a few balls to spare.
As hundreds of beachgoers clapped the players on, Nadal, Djokovic and Sharapova then posed for photos alongside a giant 3D installation spelling #InAbuDhabi, before conducting media duties ahead of the opening day’s action in the UAE capital.
Rafael Nadal said it would be “amazing” if he were to overtake Roger Federer’s record haul of 20 grand slam titles, but the Spaniard insisted it is not a goal he has set for himself.
Nadal is currently on 19 major titles having added two more during the 2019 season – a fourth US Open title and a record-extending 12th French Open crown.
Since the start of the 2017 season, Nadal has won five grand slams. Federer in comparison has won two. So based on recent years, it would seem only a matter of time before the Spaniard usurps his long-time rival – not that he has given it too much thought.
“I have to do my things the best way possible to give myself chances to stay competitive at the highest level possible. So, if it happens, great, if not, I gave my best my whole career to be in the position that I am today,” Nadal, 33, said.
“Of course, winning more than 20, or tying 20, would be something amazing, but I cannot complain at all. I’m super happy with my tennis career, I gave my best all the time and I’m proud of the way I worked and the way I enjoyed tennis all these years.
“I hope I can keep going, keep having fun and keep giving myself chances to compete at the highest level.”
Competing at the highest level is something Nadal has been doing since the very start of his career, and 2019 was no different. As well as the two grand slams, Nadal won the Masters 1000 titles in Canada and Rome, ended the year as world No 1 – becoming the oldest player to do so – and led Spain to the Davis Cup title. Injury, once again, played its part, but the positives certainly outweighed the negatives last season.
“It has been a magical year because I had a good start, but then I went through a couple of very hard months in terms of injuries, but then I came back well,” he said.
“I enjoyed a lot of great moments on court, very emotional ones: Roland Garros, Rome, then New York, that final was amazing, and then of course ending the season with the Davis Cup title on home soil, so it was an unforgettable experience to finish that way.”
As has been customary for Nadal, he will continue his preparations for the new season at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Friday, when he will play Russia’s Karen Khachanov in the second semi-final.
Nadal has been a regular visitor to MWTC, winning the title a joint-record four times – alongside Novak Djokovic, whom he could meet in Saturday’s final.
“I know I will be here with not the best preparation possible because I have just been increasing the amount of work step by step,” he said. “This year, the competition is at a different date so that makes me arrive a little bit less prepared, but honestly I’m very excited to be back here and I think these matches will help put me in better shape.
“I have been able to enjoy a lot of great moments in this part of the world. I’m excited to be back here in Abu Dhabi after a long time since my first time playing here.”
Photos: AFP; MWTC; The National
Photo: Maria Sharapova