Rafael Nadal: “I am essentially the same”


Rafael Nadal: “I am essentially the same”
His exploits in the Spanish capital began a decade ago with a comeback in the final against Ivan Ljubicic and his latest achievement there came in 2014 when he lifted the Mutua Madrid Open trophy for the fourth time, meaning he has now done so more than any other player in the tournament’s history. Before returning to the Caja Mágica, Rafael Nadal spoke to The Magazine during the build up to the fourteenth staging of the event.

Question. It has now been ten years since your comeback against Ivan Ljubicic in the 2005 final, when you won your first title here. What memories do you have of that?
Answer. It is one of the best memories I have of this tournament. It is true that it was played elsewhere and it was an indoor tournament in October, almost completely different to today. The final was even the best of five sets. I remember that largely due to the support of the public I was able to turn the match around and end up winning a final in which I was two sets to love down.

Q. How has that champion with the sleeveless t-shirt and long shorts changed now that he is 28 years old and has built an extremely successful career?
A. I think I have changed in most facets of tennis. Not so much on an internal and personal level. Of course, ten years have passed and therefore I am no longer that 18-year-old kid, but I think I am essentially the same.

Q. How much does that maturity translate onto the court?
A. A lot of course. You learn from life and that also happens in tennis. The problem is that it is not always easy to translate it and put it into practice. We have another player opposite us who always wants to win.

Q. In contrast, have you lost anything you used to have as you have matured?
A. I’ve lost the physical freshness that maybe comes with youth. Also various injuries I have had have prevented me from training in the way that I used to. But in the end, on balance, things are more positive than negative, of course.

Q. What does Madrid mean to Rafael Nadal?
A. Playing in Spain is always special. It is playing at home, with your fans, with your people who will support you unconditionally. Be it in Barcelona, Valencia or Madrid, which are the three places where I’ve played ATP tournaments in Spain. It is always special.

Q. You will travel 115,000 kilometres in 2015, visiting 21 cities in 11 months, most of the time away from your loved ones. To what point is this week in Spain different?
A. It is different, as it is in Barcelona. We have more people and family and close friends who can come more easily. But as it is a tournament, we try to do the same things and routines as we would at any other. We are here to compete and that means exclusive dedication.

Q. You have won the tournament four times, more than any other player. What does it mean to you to have more trophies than anyone else at one of your home tournaments?
A. It is special because it means that we have done things well in a place that is so important for all Spaniards.

Q. You struggled against Nishikori in the 2014 final until managing to secure the second set and the Japanese player then withdrew in the third. Did you think the match was lost after the first set?
A. It is never lost until the last point is played and that is what I have always done throughout my career. Of course the match is more difficult and you never know what would have happened, but that’s sport. A couple of months earlier it had happened to me in the final of the Australian Open. Of course it can always happen.

Q. The Japanese player’s coach is Michael Chang. Can you see yourself travelling all year with a young player as his coach? Is it unrealistic to expect to see Rafa Nadal as a coach?
A. I don’t think so. For the moment it is not what I have planned… I know I will be involved in the world of sport, but not in that way.

Q. What was the most valuable advice given to you when you were young and starting to compete?
A. I have been given a lot of advice that has been of use. It would be more difficult to pick just one. What I am sure of is that all of this is temporary and my life with my family and friends is constant.

Q. Does a loss help you more than a win?
A. It depends on the loss and it depends on the win, but it is true that you should always learn from defeats… and from victories.

Q. We are going through an era of prolonged domination from the ‘big 3′, how have you managed to win at least one Grand Slam for 10 years on the trot?
A. It is not easy to point to one reason for what I have achieved. It certainly has a lot to do with hard work, a lot of training and with everything needed to win a tournament. In the case Grand Slams too, but you mustn’t forget the difficulty of winning any tournament, especially a Masters 1000, where practically all of the world’s top 50 are playing in the same week.

Q. What is the difference between the rivalry you have with Federer and that you have with Djokovic?
A. We have played more matches, but maybe the most important moments were with Federer. It is clear that Djokovic is now the one dominating.

Q. Do you think the battle between the three of you has helped you to grow as a player, or do you think that perhaps without them you would have won more than you currently have? 
A. I think it has helped and served all of us, of course.

Q. You are coming off the back of some injuries from 2014 and you have a long list of medical problems. How do you learn to live with those problems?
A. It’s part of my career. Fortunately it is in the past. I have done quite well in terms of results and that is the important thing. Living with problems is part of life. What you have to do is be able to live with them and overcome them.

Q. Do you think you have been able to absorb those blows more easily with the passing of time?
A. There is no other option, that’s the way it is.

Q. You said in Buenos Aires that you did not know if the best Nadal would be back. Which Nadal is the best?
A. The one that feels comfortable competing, whether he wins or loses. But at least playing as well as he knows he is able, not just as well as he can.

Q. It is evident that after 10 years in the elite, you are closer to the end of your career than to the start. What are your hopes for this final stretch?
A. I am a veteran, despite being 28 years old. I hope for health in order to be able to keep training and competing.

Q. Manolo Santana, one of the great pioneers of elite tennis in Spain, is now the Director of the Mutua Madrid Open. Is it important for this sport that the great players maintain ties to top-level competition after ending their playing careers?
A. I said this in some statements that didn’t go down very well. I think it is good that people from the sport are involved in tennis.


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