Hall of Fame
To get off the beaten track of the traditional Q&A, L'Equipe proposed a game to him: a series of statements that he is free to approve or not before commenting on them.
If you hadn't met Mirka, you wouldn't have won 20 Grand Slam titles.
Phew... yes, I think so. She was so supportive, pushing me towards tennis instead of saying all the time, "Yeah, when did you finish?" She had a lot of impact in my life, but also on a court.
If Nadal had been right-handed, you would have 25 Grand Slam titles.
Right now, I would say no. Because I'm not sure that I would have beaten him more often. And I'm still convinced that if it hadn't been him, it would have been someone else. It happened that way.
Beating Pete Sampras in 2001 was a lot to take.
No. It was a great experience that gave me a boost and a better understanding that you can't just push a button and say, "Okay, I'll play like I did against Sampras. I thought about it for a few months after that win and I realized that not many players play like Sampras and you don't always feel like you did at Wimbledon that day. The win wasn't too much of a burden, but what was more of a burden was hearing over and over, "You're the next Sampras." Early in my career, when I was already being told that, I felt like I didn't deserve the comparison to Pete. And even then, after that win, it was no more justified, by the way.
You owe a lot to the Peruvian Luis Horna, who beat you in the first round of the French Open in 2003, before your first title at Wimbledon a few days later.
No, I owe more to my mental strength. Horna was just an opponent at that moment. It's true that it started the machine a little bit. It was an experience that allowed me to understand how to manage a Grand Slam, how to manage matches. I stopped underestimating some players and thinking that I could win the French Open or even just make the quarterfinals. It's true that this match certainly created something. But there have been many matches like this in my career. This is not the only one.
82 unforced errors in a single match, that can't have happened very often...
(Laughs.) I didn't know where the court was that day!
Without winning the French Open in 2009, but with 23 Grand Slam titles, your career would not be as successful.
Fifty-fitfy. There are many players who have not won the French Open and yet have complete careers. Today, in 2022, you have to have won everything, beaten all the records, otherwise you have not succeeded... (He stops.) No, I choose the 20 with the French.
If Robin Söderling hadn't beaten Rafael Nadal that year, you would never have won the French Open.
(Long hesitation.) I say no. Of course, there's no guarantee, but I think I would have managed to win the French in one way or another.
The 2003 YEC is one of the most important tournaments of your life.
Yes. I've said it many times, it gave me the confidence to beat the best players from the baseline. I remember when the group came out, with Agassi, Nalbandian and Ferrero, who were all baseline players, I thought I'd try to play them from the back of the court to see what happens. There was that mega-match at the beginning against Agassi (6-7, 6-3, 7-6 win) and the rest is history (final win against Agassi, again, in the final). But that's where I proved to myself that I can play any type of player and beat them at their best. I gained the ultimate confidence there.
Nobody will ever match the "monster" you created between 2004 and 2007.
I say it will happen again. Because it's easier today to win on any surface. The possibility is real. I don't have in mind the best years of Rafa or Novak, but they were very close, right? I see a lot of records falling in the next 50 years and that's normal, because the players are going to be focused on that. But it's not going to be easy because it's long, and it's a lot of matches!
During this period of domination and until 2010, you played 23 semifinals in a row in Grand Slam. That's your craziest stat.
Yes, it probably is. 23 in a row is huge. Those are kind of abnormal numbers for me. Almost like it's become routine, and I don't mean that in an arrogant way. "Here we go, OK, one more semi, who's going to win? We'll see..." That kind of longevity, I can't believe I've accomplished it in my career. When I hear that, it always strikes me.
In the summer of 2013, following your back problems, you were very close to quitting tennis.
No (firm). No, it was just, I'm not going to say a big deal, but here's the thing, how do I get out of it? I was in pain so much that I couldn't do it anymore. It started in Indian Wells against (Ivan) Dodig, and then I still play Stan (Wawrinka, 7-5 win in the third), and then Rafa (lost 6-4, 6-2) and now I'm not moving. I play in a completely different way. Then it was really fragile for a long time. When the back is not good, it is not good. Towards the end of the year, it was a little bit better, but it was a very difficult year. It changed the way I engaged on defensive shots. At some point, I was able to get away from that. But thinking about quitting, no, never.
Some said at the time that at 32, it was perhaps time to stop...
(He cuts off.) But it's always the same, it was the same at Wimbledon last year when they said "Oh yeah, this isn't the same anymore .... "There was not ONE question at the press conference about my knee, which for me is phenomenal! Because that's all I could think about! For months, every day, every hour, every minute. And finally, I don't even have to explain myself about the knee. I was happy, by the way, but at the same time, I didn't understand what people had seen. Either I hide my problems so well, or people don't understand or don't want to talk about it because they're nice. And 2013 was the same way. People judge you without knowing. You can't reveal everything, but deep down you know, "If you knew what I was going through right now..." It's hard because you almost want to say, "I can't, I have a sore back, guys!" "OK then, why are you playing?" "Well, it's still okay just to try...". Those are moments I'm glad I don't have to live through anymore. Every time you say you're hurting or something, it's "Ah, the guy is a sore loser..." It's a super thin line. I tried to handle those moments as best I could, but, inevitably, I made mistakes in that area.