An in-depth interview with Rafael Nadal came out this weekend in La Vanguardia’s Sunday magazine. If you thought the recent London Times Q&A with Roger Federer was deep, this takes the conversational ball way beyond the baseline. Rafa covers it all: war, poverty, religion, Xisca, his physical limitations and Fed’s slacker magic.
This is my google-assisted translation so please don’t take it as Gospel (Rafa doesn’t put too much stock in sacred texts, anyway.) I’ve left out a few sentences here and there that I just can’t figure out. Click here for the original interview by Dagoberto Escorcia. And feel free as always to give your own take in the comments section.
At 23, Rafael Nadal shows a very high degree of maturity. The tennis star is ready to talk about almost everything, from injuries this season, his successes and his setbacks, but also subjects like life, war, poverty, his ideal world. Nadal seems psyched to tackle the difficulties that gather on the horizon, with increasingly strong rivals and the thinking that he can “be better without winning as much as before.”
While waiting for the Davis Cup final, how would you evaluate the season with these two distinct parts marked by injuries?
If I had not suffered an injury, the season would classify as excellent. I won a Grand Slam (Australia), three Masters Series, two finals in two Masters, a final in Rotterdam and Godó (Barcelona), I think it is very good. I do not know how many people have won five titles this season, but winning all the tournaments has been important. For me it is a positive, remarkable year. I thought that was well under way, but it’s a shame because at the end of the season I’ve had to play without being a hundred percent. I tried to go to Wimbledon, but my knee hurt too much and I had no choice. I had to stop two months and when I returned I was a little afraid, I lost the rhythm of the competition and all that eventually effects you. But I’m back, and the results have been better than expected. The trouble is that I tore my abdomen, and had another break that broke me. I got to the quarterfinals in Cincinnati, won games playing at a good level, but in the U.S. Open held for a match and a half without getting hurt, then pain was over. When I finished the U.S. Open, there was a two centimeter tear. (Sorry, the translation is rough here – basically Nadal’s saying the abdominal injury had a major effect on his play around the time of the US Open.)
But that has been constant. You have always been winning in pain, perhaps asking your body for more than it could give.
All elite athletes have played with pain or grief. But when the pain becomes limiting it hurts you in everything, in movement, running, and when you play at a very high level, it is almost impossible for you to aspire to the fullest.
That happens a lot with the motorbike riders who are accustomed to racing with pain.
The superhuman efforts that one asks of the body are almost always connected to the calendar, which is in charge, but it is clear that playing hurt is not positive. In bike racing you do the training, the race lasts 20-25 laps, and you get one or two weeks to rest. In tennis, first, you run for every ball, and second, you do not know how long the game will last: one hour, three or five. If you win, the next day you return to play. You can go one day after another with this mentally for a while, but ultimately it’s impossible. Pain limits you. There are others who can endure it. Still, the results since my return have been very good.
What does pressure mean to you? Who puts pressure on a player like you?
As it relates to media, it means very little to me. The pressure I endure is more personal. . . I’m taking it easy and know that it is very hard to do everything I’ve done in the past five years, I’ve had very good results, better than we had imagined. From this base, everything is taken more calmly. If my career ended today, the evaluation is that it was very good. Then comes the aspect of motivation of wanting to improve yourself, wanting to be the best. All that is pressure. I want to play well every time I go to the court, I want to win, but if I lose the final in Shanghai, I’m not sad. I’m happy with my level and realize that you can not always win, especially if the rival is better than you. Matches like the one I lost in Beijing again Marin Cilic, in contrast, left a bad taste because he was playing well and that day I did very badly. (He then uses the f-word to describe his 1-6, 3-6 semifinal loss to Cilic, but I can’t figure it out well enough to translate.)
How do you get confidence? Only through victory?
It gives me confidence to have trained well, and the other key, of course, is winning. When you’re on a winning streak, you take to the court feeling that you can’t lose.
This year, you only lost ten times. How painful is defeat?
There are painful defeats, of course. The end of Roland Garros this year was painful.
Anyway, you are a happy man that life has smiled upon.
Of course I have a lucky life, I have no doubt. Working in what I like, in one of my hobbies, that is playing tennis and more nowadays. Also, I’m outstanding in the sport. I’m number two in the world and have been for the past five years. I have also been number one. I have a close family, I have no problems at all. I have my group of life-long friends, a positive environment and health in general for myself and the people around me. Athletically speaking, I have been lucky.
Does Nadal get angry?
Yes, it’s normal, like everyone else. I’m not a Quemao (tidal wave?), I’ve always had enough self-control in everything. I’m not a guy who gets angry and screams, no.
Do you remember the last time you cried?
Yes, I’ve cried many times, but the count is irrelevant now. Everybody cries.
In a tournament, like Federer?
I’ve also cried about losing, but not on the court. When I lost Wimbledon in 2007 I cried, but in the locker room. I do not like to do it in front of people.
In this life you would be unconscious if you’re not disturbed by what you see every day. I worry about poverty, kidnappings, wars, those who die from lack of food, the global crisis. This can be a hard factor, but much more to see children die of hunger or war.
A friend goes to war in Afghanistan with the Spanish army. Do you have a few words to say to him?
It’s hard to say anything. I think it’s something so incredible when you go to war! Just the fact “I go to war,” seems inconceivable. Virtually all the bad things that happen in life are the fault of radicalism of any kind, that trigger problems that could be avoided. You can have hobbies, likes, beliefs, but always with respect for the opinions of others, without fail. Just as with religion. One can be religious, atheist, Christian, Muslim, whatever, but all the atrocities that have been caused by religion are too much. For me religion is the biggest killer in history.
What would your ideal world be?
I do not think that an ideal world is possible. We can hope for a much better world than we live in, not for me, I am lucky that I have almost the ideal life, but for many other people.
Do you have an idea of what would change?
Always we speak of the poverty, but, for example, I have been in India, in Chennai, several times, and I can assure you that inside the poverty I see happiness in the faces of the people. And that we should apply to all of us. There, where people have practically nothing and live in the street, you see the faces and they do not deceive you. Here, many people have practically everything and tomorrow you can see them going to work and their faces do not reflect happiness. . . Here we do not value what we have; I’m like this, too.
A globetrotter like you, what’s impacted you the most?
I have seen many things, but it really is difficult to judge certain things in certain countries, especially since I’m usually in a more favorable environment. It’s difficult to experience a country like its citizens. Undoubtedly, what has struck me most was the Twin Towers. I was playing a match at exactly the same time in Madrid, trying to get my first ATP point and I wasted 13 match points before losing the match. I went right away to see it live on TV. Six months earlier I had been up there on vacation with my family. The following year I went to see Ground Zero. The image of the plane and when the towers fall still makes me squirm.
Are you afraid of something?
I think fear is part of life. I’m afraid.
Who is the tennis player you most admire?
The best ever I’ve seen is Roger Federer. The main thing is the talent that he has to do things. I’ve seen him train many times and few times have I seen him train with the intensity which I have done all my life. In fact, never. That impresses me. A player like him has worked hard since childhood, but you see him train and not pay much attention. He has a facility that allows inspiration to come to him with little concentration, and he catches the feeling immediately, and makes extremely difficult things become very easy.
Do you envy that power?
I do not want it to get confused: I have no envy whatsoever. Of course, I would like to win what he has won. Each person has what they have, and I am very happy with what I have won so far. The truth is that he has some innate, special qualities.
Does Rafael Nadal have a limit?
I don’t think one can know. The daily limit is attempting to do everything possible to improve. Going to the limit is going to train every day with enthusiasm, because you’re not only thinking about winning but about wanting to improve, play better. The courts can not rest because every day there is competition. I’m limited by that framework. Winning or losing sometimes does not mean much, one can be a better player without winning as much as before. It is a matter of mentality, to maintain the freshness to win.
How much has your girlfriend helped to maintain motivation, to keep growing?
I don’t believe she has at all. In continuing to grow as an athlete you can not have help from anyone, no family, no coach, nobody. It is you who must continue to have the motivation, enthusiasm and the belief that you make the effort to remain the best.
Do you still retain all that?
The day I do not, I will turn to other things. Of course I still have it.
The Spanish team returns to play the Davis Cup final, this time with you.
Davis Cup is the main goal I have left this year, which is closer to our grasp. Last year I couldn’t play, and I was annoyed. Playing at the Palau Sant Jordi, where I was the flag carrier in 2000 (when Spain won the Davis Cup vs. Australia) and to live through it now as a player and not as a spectator will be a beautiful experience.
Here’s the 14 year-old Rafa doing his duty:
What does it mean to own a replica of the real Trofeo Conde de Godo? (Barcelona club trophy)
Everything I have achieved in the last five years is special. Winning in Barcelona five times is unthinkable. You have to win so many matches, to maintain a high concentration, not being injured, and feel well every day. Winning at a club is different from in the big stadiums because it retains the essence of tennis. Furthermore, it is my club where I feel at home. I always have a unique feeling. The first time was a dream, winning five times, unimaginable. The trophy will be in a special place in my house.
Here’s Rafa and his take-home Godo cup: