interview

'Roger and I get along, but we are not friends'

10/20/2014Rafaholics ™


"Roger and I get along, but we are not friends."

Rafael #Nadal explains why Federer's 2009 win Paris touched him, what he thinks of the Davis Cup and what his family plans look like.

When Rafael Nadal shows up in this small, windowless office in the catacombs of St. James' Hall for his interview he looks a little weary. He takes his first appearance in Basel in ten years serious. he arrived with his uncle and coach Toni and his girlfriend Xisca Perello on Friday and has trained hard since his arrival.

In this interview he is very open and concentrated. He confesses that his body has suffered after an appendicitis and a strong course of antibiotics. And he admits that he has respect, and is even a little afraid before this debut tonight against Simone Bolelli (at 6:30pm). The confidence in his body, which has often let him down, is missing. But not the optimism and confidence that in 2015 he will be back at his best.

How do you feel before Basel?
More tired than usual. Due to my inflamed appendix I had to take a lot of antibiotics over the last week and a half and have some fear of how my body reacts in competition. Training is always different from a match and I have not trained enough. In the past I have gotten ill from antibiotics or injured myself all over again. I just hope that I will be ready for the match on Monday. I take it day by day.

Are you entering the tournament here because you felt obliged after you had already canceled three times?
During the week in which Basel takes place I have not played a tournament in a long time. I thought then that I could use an additional indoor tournament before the ATP finals. Unfortunately, my plan has not work so far. Last year I had to skip Basel, and even now my situation is not optimal. But I did not want to cancel for two consecutive years.

What are the chances that you will play Paris-Bercy and London as well after Basel?
I do not know. I'll have to see how I feel after Basel and talk with the doctors. After everything that has happened recently I do not think Paris or London yet. It is clear that I will have surgery before the end of the year, because I want to start the new year healthy and fit.

Was 2014 one of your toughest years with all your injuries?
It was a good year when I was able to play, with a Grand Slam title, another major final and some tournament victories. But what happened in Australia in the final was hard for me to accept. Not the defeat, but that I was not competitive, after I had worked so long for it (he is talking about the back problems that limited him against Wawrinka). Then, in preparation for the hard court season this happened with my wrist, I tore the tendon. Overall it was not a terrible year, even though I missed the U.S. Open and could not finish the Australian Open well. But I can not be totally happy because I was out for so long.

You are often injured, but seem to accept it well. Have you learned over time?
I am a positive person and injuries are part of a sports career. Some have more than others. I had a little less luck, missed some important tournaments. But even so I have ranked high for ten, eleven years in a row. Now I need to recover from this injury, find my best form again. It means a lot of work.

If you look at Roger Federer who, at 33 is fit again and plays like a 25 year old, do you not think: That is unfair?
No, it's not unfair. Everybody has positive and negative things. He also had back problems, but only later in life.

Do you wonder sometimes how many years you still have in tennis?
Everything has a beginning and an end. That's why I don't worry too much. When the day comes, it comes. If I no longer feel the inner drive to fight, to suffer, to train every day to return to the game, to endure the pain that I normally have, that day has come. Then I'll do other things. Then I'll go fishing in Mallorca. That's not bad.

Have you been close to this point?
Some moments are definitely hard. For example, what happened after Paris in 2012 when I had to take a break until February 2013 because of my knee injury. But I came back with positive energy and played great. It's true, even now it is hard for me to return after a three or four months break, and now to start at zero again because of this appendicitis. But I'm very motivated to get back to my best level. Not this year, that's almost over, but in 2015.

You have fought against Roger Federer in eight Grand Slam finals, the last one in 2011 in Paris. Do you think that we will still be able to experience more?
This year we played against each other at the Australian Open semi-final so we were not that far away from it. But you never know what will happen.

In your autobiography you write a lot about your relationship with Federer. Do you think that you have made each other better players?
There are always rivalries during a career, and Roger was my most important one for a long time. But rival do not make you better, your own motivation does. I have always worked on becoming a better player on all surfaces.

What drives you? To break records? Winning more Grand Slam tournaments?
The most important thing for me is to be happy and enjoy the competition. My motivation is to be competitive, savor the moments of the fight. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This is sport. If I'm healthy, can train well and play for a big title, I'm happy.

Do you follow the debate as to who the greatest tennis player is? You, Federer or someone from the past? What is your view?
It is difficult to speculate as long as our careers are not yet completed. But in my opinion there much evidence that Rod Laver is the best in history. He won the calendar Grand Slam, joined the pros and won the Grand Slam again after a long break. That's great. If he had not turned pro, he would certainly have won more majors than me and probably more than Roger as well. Laver must definitely be considered in this discussion. Roger has the most Grand Slams titles and broken many records, he is certainly one of them.

But he lost 23 times against you.
That's right. We have to throw into the mix as well. But I do not think it is currently the decisive factor. In my opinion he has achieved way too much for that. Maybe this will be significant if I get closer to his record after major victories. But 14 vs 17 Grand Slam titles is a significant difference. At the present time there is no question that he must be a greater player than me.

How important it is for him to win the Davis Cup?
I do not know. It was not so important to him for a long time otherwise he would have played more often. I do not know if it has now become a priority to him.

Last week he practiced on sand in preparation for the Davis Cup Final.
Okay, then it seems to have become a priority for him. But I do not know how important the Davis Cup is today. Of course it's nice to win it. But the competition has not changed for the better. Many good players are not regularly playing in it. Thus, the Davis Cup has lost its value in my eyes. If all of a sudden the top players would no longer participate in the Australian Open it would no longer be as important. And that's what happened with the Davis Cup. I say that as someone who has won it four times.

You said this summer that you cried when Federer's won the 2009 French Open. Can you explain that?
I did not cry, but it was emotional for me. I thought he deserved it, after he had lost in Paris in 2005, 06, 07 and 08 against me. I am not someone who hopes that his rivals lose every time. I believe that I profit when my rivals get better. We create interest in tennis, break records. When Roger was victorious in Paris he had won all Grand Slams. This is an important thing. And when I play against a player who has won everything that enhances my performance. Not? I think it's wonderful when someone who has long been working towards a goal is rewarded. Roger had come close to victory in Paris several times in Paris, he had played well until the last day, but then he got unlucky a couple of times. It was fair that he won in 2009. He deserved it, and I was really happy for him.

How would you describe your relationship with him?
We understand each other well. But we're not friends. Not because we are rivals. But because my friends are from Mallorca. Friends are those people who are there every day of your life. With whom one is always in contact. But I always had a good relationship with Roger, always had great respect for him. And he for me. We have achieved many positive things together, for example our exhibition matches around the world for our foundations. I hope we will also maintain this good relationship beyond our careers.

2014 there there were two new Grand Slam champions with Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic. Could this be the harbinger of a changing of the guard?
What happened these last eight, nine years, that the same three, four players accounted for all of the major titles among each other can not last forever. And it will probably never happen again. It's good for tennis that there are new champions, that fans see new faces. Even if the rivalry between Roger, Djokovic, Andy and myself has given tennis much attention. That was good. But after a certain time is also good to see new winners.

Were you surprised that Federer has returned from number 8 ranking back to 2 this year?
No. Why should it? He played well in the big tournaments, reached many finals. And it is logical that he has surpassed me because I missed more or less half of the season. If Roger is fit and playing well, he is one of the best. No doubt about it.

Federer is already a father of four, Novak Djokovic will be a father. Is that something you want?
Yes, of course. I love children and definitely want my own family. But everyone has their own timing. Mine is that I want kids after my career. But of course you can never predict the future (smiles).

Translated by Chris Boardman for Rafaholics

Photo: Sophie Stieger

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