Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

'It’s amazing to be part of this historic moment of tennis' - Rafael Nadal relishing the three-way battle for world supremacy

Spanish superstar opens up about the future as he launches tennis academy in Kuwait City

There is a philosophy deep-rooted in the Rafael Nadal psyche when it comes to comparing his own achievements to others.

“You can’t be frustrated all the time because the neighbour has a bigger house than you, or a bigger TV or a better garden. That’s not the way that I see the life,” the Spaniard often says whenever he is asked about chasing Roger Federer’s men’s all-time record of 20 Grand Slam titles.

Nadal is part of a thrilling three-way race for what is arguably the ultimate record in tennis. The 19-time Grand Slam champion is just one major title short of Federer’s tally, and has Novak Djokovic close behind after the Serb took his total to 17, thanks to his eighth Australian Open triumph last week.

With the legendary trio all aged 32 and over, they are closer to the end of their careers than they are to the beginning. Yet they refuse to loosen their grip on the summit of the rankings and their battle for supremacy is going down to the wire.

Nadal insists holding the Grand Slam record will have no bearing on how he feels about his career once he retires. But the magnitude of what all three of them are fighting for is not lost on the Mallorcan lefty.

“Of course it’s exciting. It’s amazing to be part of this historic moment of tennis,” Nadal told The National at the launch of his academy in Kuwait this week.

“There are a lot of things we are achieving that have never happened in the past. I’m enjoying this process, enjoying being part of it, for me it’s such a privilege and an honour. And I’m just trying to be ready to keep going.”

No one knows how long Nadal can keep going, but for someone who spent most of his career firing his mighty topspin forehand amid general skepticism surrounding his longevity, due to his playing style that was perceived as particularly taxing on his body, the Spaniard is still as competitive as ever at the age of 33. In his own words, he had a “magical” 2019 season, in which he picked up two Grand Slam titles – in Paris and New York – and ended the year as the world No 1.

At the core of it, Nadal is motivated by his pure passion for tennis. He believes finding joy in the process, and having a good time on the court is the main thing that has been driving him all along. He admits there are some days that are, naturally, better than others, but he never needed to put a great effort into attaining that feeling of joy on court.

“I don’t consider that I had to sacrifice a lot of things to become a tennis player because I enjoyed always this process,” assures Nadal.

On the court, Nadal can block the whole world around him and focus solely on himself and what he needs to do to win the next point.

His famous habits, like meticulously placing his water bottles on the ground with the labels facing a certain direction, or his pre-serve routines, help him stay concentrated during the few seconds of down time between points and games. But when he’s off the court, Nadal is open to his surroundings, and is almost like a sponge, absorbing lessons that can help him evolve in every aspect of his life.

“You’re in a permanent state of learning. You need to be open and with the eyes and mind very open to see what’s going on around you and take the good things, the things you like and forget about the other things you don’t like.

“It’s important for me to watch around and copy the things you like and put away the things you don’t. That’s my feeling. Every day, you need to be ready to go, look around and learn something.”

The Spaniard laughs when he is asked to pick a record he is most proud of achieving so far in his career. He pauses for a bit then says: “Of course 12 Roland Garros is something really amazing.”

No other player, man or woman, has won 12 titles at the same Grand Slam, and Nadal is favoured to clinch a 13th crown in Paris this summer.

But whether he adds to his success there or not, Nadal is at peace with where he is at and is not worried about that future moment in time in which he decides to walk away from his professional career.

“Because I think I have a lot of things in this life that make me happy away from tennis. Of course tennis is an important part of my life but I think I can be very happy without playing tennis. That gives me the calm that when I stop playing tennis, I will have plenty of things to do and plenty of things that are going to make me happy."

Updated: February 7, 2020 09:58 AM

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