Rafa Interview: Be humble, not foolish


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INTERVIEW: TENNIS - World number one Rafael Nadal Six-time champion at Roland Garros
"Be humble, Not Silly"
JUAN JOSÉ MATEO - London - 12/06/2011

He says he won his tenth Grand Slam title because he combines the absolutely necessary mix of obstinacy and self-sacrifice. The formula seems simple, but very few 25 year olds manage to put together to overcome a crisis of confidence like the one he was going through in Paris.

Nighttime fell in London some time ago, but Rafael Nadal (Manacor, Mallorca, 25yrs) has still not gone out to have dinner. Before his debut in the Queen's tournament, Sunday's winner of his sixth Roland Garros title brings Tuesday to a close by seating himself on a plush sofa to go over various aspects of his biography - from Severiano Ballesteros to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, via the values that distinguish champions from others.

Question: You appear on a wooden bench in a photograph of you taken moments after your victory over Federer in the final. It shows a very tired you on a bench in the locker-room at Roland Garros. What was going through your head then?

Response: I was very pleased with myself. Between my enthusiasm and the help of my team, something had been achieved which 10 days beforehand had seemed impossible. In that picture... You can't see, but what I'm doing is crying in the locker-room. I got there, I wanted to sit down and... it was a very emotional moment because I was aware I'd won something that days before had seemed very complicated/difficult. It was won with determination to change the situation as well as with hard work every day, for months and years. I'm satisfied for having been able to assume the initial failure or, more than failure, the disaster of how I had been playing, and from that point on get a little bit better every day.

Q: After that photo, you went out on centre court and took one with Pau Gasol. What values unite two guys like you who have won everything?

R: All those that win have one basic thing in common. It's not humility or all those things that make a good impression or look nice. It's better if you are humble, like him, but there are many people that have won a lot, an awful lot, who are arrogant. What makes you win is wanting to win and wanting to do everything that has to be done to win. Wanting to work when you don't feel like it. Knowing how to put up with things at difficult times thinking they're going to change. Being obstinate enough to think things will turn out well when they don't at the first try, nor at the tenth. Your mind has to be prepared to assume difficulties so that you can overcome them. Without any doubt, everybody that wins has that.

Q: Did you recognise that in Severiano Ballesteros? When he died, you won a match and signed "Seve" on a camera lens after your victory. There was a 24 year age difference between you, and yet, you connected?

R:I didn’t experience his golden age, but I met him. I am a great lover of golf. I’ve watched all his videos. Seve had the added difficulty of being a pioneer in Spain and created a way, a style, around the world. His greatest quality, no doubt, was that he wanted it and was prepared to do whatever it took to get there. If you think you can get there, it doesn’t matter if you do it with an hour of training or 10 million hours. The important thing is to get there. That was Seve. I played 18 holes with him and kept in touch. He was an excellent person.”

Q: Practicing on grass 24 hours after winning the biggest clay-court tournament. What was the thinking?

R: That comes from experience. The first year I won Roland Garros, in 2005, I wasn't prepared to do it [he lost in the first round at Halle]. It also comes from always wanting to improve on all surfaces; wanting to be good everywhere, something I had quite clear. I didn't manage it in 2005: I was overcome by happiness, a huge drop in tension, winning my first major, which was unbelievable for me. Once I had won my second Roland Garros... Pam! (just like that) my brain started thinking of the next up [grass].

Q: So you had already mentally accepted travelling from Roland Garros to Queen's [he was eliminated on Friday, in the quarter finals, by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga].

R: Am I tired? Yes. Do I feel like being here? No. I long to be at home. I haven't spent a week at home since the Davis Cup in Belgium (in March). I think this is a sacrifice which can help me do things better later on at Wimbledon. Perhaps it won't help me. What is for sure is that I'm going to feel much more at ease with myself having done everything I can to get to Wimbledon in form. Having this peace of mind with yourself allows you to play better at a given moment.

Q: Did winning in Paris take a load off your mind?

R: Winning Roland Garros, the 10 Grand Slam titles I have [two Wimbledon, one Australian Open and one US Open apart from the six in Paris], means taking a step forward in my career and also in my confidence to play the rest of the year with more calm. Is it a weight off my back? Perhaps. I'm not obliged to win, but doing so gives me very great personal satisfaction at being one more year at the top, another year winning at least one major tournament. This year, when I've been healthy when I played, I've won three titles and been a finalist four times. Then, there's the history. I always say it doesn't matter to me, but of course it does. What happens is that I don't have time to expound on it, either, because next day I'm playing in another competition. Of course history matters to me. Of course it matters to me that I have the same number of titles as Borg [Bjorn, Swedish]. Of course it matters to me that I'm one of those that have won most Grand Slam. Of course it matters to me. I love sport and what makes sport great is its history. You have to be humble, but not foolish with it. With 10 titles, are you among the best in history? Well yes I am. It gives me great personal satisfaction.

Q: In Paris, you started off playing badly and ended playing very well.

R: That has happened to me many times. In every Roland Garros I've begun playing badly. I've never started one playing well. In this one, especially, I was playing a little bit more nervously than in previous ones. At those others I hadn't lost four finals in a year [all to Novak Djokovic]. That's hard, but you've also got to see that I was there in all of them. Not doing well enough to win the four, but doing enough to accept the losses sufficiently well to be able to return to fighting from the first day in the next tournament. At Roland Garros, seeing that I hadn't been able to win any of those four finals, I began the tournament feeling insecure. That's where the problem came from. Once the first week was over, I realised that the only option I had was to play well... and that's when I started to play well. The obligation to do so made me play well.

Q: "He was outplaying him", is how Carlos Moyà summed up Federer's start to the final. How does the number one deal with this situation, seeing himself being bettered when he is supposed to be the best?

R: I understand the question, but I'm going to answer it differently. When I'm playing, I'm not thinking that I'm the number one, but that I'm in the Roland Garros final against Federer and that I know that, when he plays at his maximum level, he is practically unstoppable. Now, matches don't last for five or seven games. I know that playing at your maximum level for three hours is difficult. If he manages it, you shake his hand and you go home because he is brilliant and difficult to beat. I also know that if I get to my level, if I get into my rhythm, I'll make it difficult for him to play so well. If I start to play deep, with high bounces, manage to make the points last longer, he can start to make errors. My objective is to arrive at least to that situation. I don't feel humiliated or outplayed. I feel I have to get into the game. That's what I was thinking about: about waiting for the right moment to get some air. The superiority has to be maintained all the time. I maintain an equilibrium all the time. When he plays very well, he wins; when he doesn't play so well, he loses. In the end, it's won in the middle ground in between.

Q: You have only conceded 19% of the breakpoints against you in the six finals you've played in Paris. How did you do it?

R: Somehow, you have to win finals. Demanding matches of this caliber are played to the limit. Whoever saves most situations wins. What's important is to have the confidence, the clear idea of what you are going to do. You don't want anxiety or nerves to get the better of you and make you do what you don't want to do. It's lucky that, for the moment, I've always been more nervous when playing the first matches, the ones where maybe there's more margin for error, than in the finals, where there's less margin.

Q: Why do you recommend reading The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

R: Because I thought it was very harsh, but in the harshness there is a message. When you do it to others, it's not so serious; when they do it to you, it is very serious. They [the Nazis] killed left and right at random, but when it happens to you in your own home.... It wakes you up. There are always two ways of looking at things in life, within the same situation. Interesting.

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