Interview with Rafael Nadal
November 20, 2007
Rafael Nadal (Manacor, Mallorca; 1986) sprints while sending 10-meter passes with a soccer ball along the long hallways of Qi Zhong stadium. Then he goes inside the playerís area and begins a kind of juggling act with Roger Federer. Nothing suggests that the Swiss has just beaten him 6-4 y 6-1 in the semifinals of the Masters Tournament. Nadal, who says he has had the best season ever, takes the ball and starts tapping it with his feet. ďYouíre better than Maradona!" says Federer. Then, the number two in the world says hi to the Chinese driver of his Mercedes, calling him by his name, and gives us an interview.
Question: Youíve played this entire year without a lot of physical training for endurance.
Answer: I have never said it, because it sounds like an excuse. I donít like to talk about injuries. I do physical training everyday, except I canít run. But now, during the pre-season, I am going to try. Ever since my foot injury in 205, I am very careful and I avoid running. And that shows. I need to get my physical form as I play matches, and itís hard because I don't have a good foundation.
Q. What have you done to counter this problem?
R. I swim, I run inside the pool to get endurance, I do rowing, bicycle, the elliptic machineÖ But from experience, I know it does not replace running. It does not give you the same kind of confidence. Itís hard.
Itís a matter of whether you dare to push down. I used to manage a very high ball, very long, the best one I had. Unconsciously, my game has been adapting to these little problems. Now I donít do it so aggressively, but with shorter steps, trying not to force it so much. Sometimes itís an obstacle. Psychologically, you feel squashed. You say to yourself: ****! If only I could be physically like I was in 2005 Ė now that I can play tennis so much better!
Q. Youíve always played with the number one spot in mind. But now, Novak Djokovic threatens to take away your number two spot.
A. Iíve always worried more about whoís behind me than whoís in front. Federer has always been far ahead. At a certain point, the media started to say that I could be number one by the end of the year. For a while I was ahead in the annual race, and he had a lot of points to defend. The key match was the Wimbledon final.
P. What happened in the locker room after that final? There are some rumors going aroundÖ
A. I kept myself together pretty well during the ceremony, I didnít want to act like a child. But once I arrived in the locker room , I sat down, and naturally, after losing the final of the tournament that thrills me the most, against the number one player, and having had lots of opportunities, I started to cry Ė out of disappointment, sadness. It was the only match where I cried afterwards last year, and one of the few where Iíve done it in my entire life. It was a very even match. I spent 20 or 25 minutes totally crushed. Once people started to arrive, I sat in a bathtub. They were coming to encourage me. I would thank them and ask them to leave me alone. I donít like to be seen crying.
Q. At some point, your uncle Toni even proposed he stop being your coach.
A. This year, when things werenít going well at the beginning, he did suggest that. I said no. That was not the problem I thought I had enough strength in me to turn the situation around, with no need of a new coach. Toni is, and will continue to be, my coach.
Q. What have you learned from all this?
A. Iíve learned to be more patient. I have more experience. Itís important when things arenít going well. When things are going badly, you get nervous, but I know the logical outcome is that I will eventually play well again. If not tomorrow, in two weeks, a month, three, five. Once youíve been up there, and youíve proved to yourself you can do itÖ It's not for nothing you are number two. So you go up and down. Thatís the most important lesson this year. I hadnít won a title for 8 months, and I was anxious. When I won Indian Wells, I started to play at a great level. Often, all you need is a click.
Q. Have you changed your game to accomplish this?
A. On clay, I started to go to net a lot more, and Iíve changed my game style a bit, always with my foundation of fighting and high intensity. Now I can slice the ball, go up to net and volley with more assurance. Iíve also improved my serve. I still need a bit more speed, and confidence you get from those extra 10-20 km, to make you serve into a real weapon.
A. You also need to be more aggressive in the return.
A. Yes, sometimes I forget. Itís something I need to work on, because it does not come easy. Until I reach bottom, until I see I am playing badly, that am playing too defensively, I don't realize I need to be aggressive again.
Q. Do they ask you questions about doping more than any other player?
A. I donít feel more persecuted, but mistreated. A lot of these things seem ridiculous to me. When I finished my match against Ferrer, I had to stay there until midnight because I couldnít pee. I ate on the floor.
Q. Now, a positive result would get four yearís suspension.
A. A Frenadol [cold medicine], a Vicks Vaporub... it's considered doping. We have to be aware that, often, just a little oversight can become doping. I donít know if Martina Hingis has taken cocaine. Do you think thatís going to help her? To me, it wouldnít at all. And yet, they destroy her image. I am disgusted by drugs, but some things are just ridiculous. We the players should have more solidarity among ourselves, be strong, protest. We are not united. I am gone all the month of December and I have to report where I am going to be every single day. Itís ridiculous. You say to yourself: Why am I being treated as a criminal?
Q. Why do you think Federer does not get injured as often.
A. Because of the calendar and because his style of play is less prone to injury. Heís looser. Federer has astonishing innate abilities. I do too, but I need to work much harder. I donít feel I get injured more often than others. But I feel that the slightest problem tends to turn into a big problem. This year I only missed the Marseille tournament.
Q. Weren't you injured during Roland Garros?
A. I played all of Roland Garros with a numbed, anesthetized foot. I didnít want to go to the hospital so as not to put doubts into my head. I knew it was noting serious. My foot hurt. I went to the hospital after the final, and I had a small contusion.
Q. In 2005 you were very affected by a foot injury. This year you were out for a month and a half because of your knees. Was it the same?
A. Itís different. I knew I could get over it. I knew what I had. I played because it was the US Open, but mentally I was no longer fresh. I could not see things clearly. Then I had some tests done in Mallorca, and everything was pretty bad. my immune system, ironÖ The doctor prescribed a weekís rest, and I went to Ibiza. It was one of the best weeks of my life.
Q. What did you think when Federer lost to Gonzalez?
A. I thought it was a miracle.
Q. Is it a problem that the clay season is so packed together?
A. Itís a disadvantage. I spend two months playing so many matches, with the pressure of winning. For Federer itís different. He has many weeks with nothing. I would not be in Shangai without the points I get in the clay season. I had a good season outside of clay, but if something happens to me during the clay season, I will be affected the rest of the year.
Q. Do you feel played out?
A. When I got to Hamburg, I felt overworked. At a certain point, my head snapped, especially against Federer. I had been playing final after final for several weeks, with very hard matches and pressure. Thinking about the same thing everyday. It comes a point where you feel tired.
Q. The Chinese are surprised by the contrast between your calm personality and your warrior image.
A. I do the usual things youíd expect of a normal young men my age. I am kid, a plain normal young guy.