10 Minutes with Rafael Nadal


Rafael Nadal is sitting in a room at the Standard High Line in NYC. The tennis star is here to talk about the new NikeCourt collection, which debuts this week. To celebrate the line, Nike will stage a re-imagining of its iconic Spike Jonze-directed "Guerrilla Tennis" commercial, in which the classic rivalry between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras was famously played out on a busy Manhattan street.

The need for a narrative has conferred on Nadal and Roger Federer the 21st-century version of that Agassi-Sampras rivalry. At the Standard, I show up with Polaroid camera and ask him what he thinks of the comparisons: "Oh, yeah, no, I think different eras, different stories. Both, I think, are interesting," he says simply.

With the U.S. Open starting this week, and without a major title win this season (his first time in six years), there's been talk of replacing his coaching team after a spate of unexpected losses. Today though, Nadal's mind is very much in the room as we move from his legacy to his morning routine: "I have a shower, some breakfast, and normally I go to the court to practice," he tells me.

Nadal isn't unaware of his status as an icon. The brash style he showcases on the court—his capri-length shorts and sleeveless tops, with long hair held back by his signature Nike headband—has inspired almost as much talk as his swing. Reflecting on his decision to ditch the capris, Nadal says, "I had been using those long shorts from 2005 until 2008. It was, you know, something different and I enjoyed it, but at that point I felt like it was the moment for a change. I felt that I was not a kid anymore."

At 29, the decision to adjust the length of your shorts might look like growing up. Or maybe it's the need to prove you've still got it, that your talent is still the talent you became known for. Either way, next week we'll be watching to see how Nadal performs. Win or lose, he'll walk off that court in Queens and, if we're lucky, deliver that smile.


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