With his fourteenth victory at Roland-Garros, the Spanish tennis player becomes a legend and responds to the Paris Match.
Not a second to lose. The day after his 14th victory at Roland-Garros, Rafael Nadal is very surrounded: an agent, two bodyguards, a press officer. She limps lightly when she is at the door of her suite, wearing an immaculate white shirt and a neutral jacket. Nadal bows incessantly to the promotion match. On the roof of a Parisian palace, twelve people are attending the photo shoot. Nadal tries to focus in front of the camera, not distracted by phones trying to steal a moment of filming. Two Cerberus watch over the official tournament trophy. “We had fourteen times,” said Benito, his agent. Do you think we’ll steal it now? Christmas does not listen. Looking vaguely, he takes off his shirt in the elevator to put on a polo shirt. On each floor, the same bewildered gaze of customers discovering the shirtless champion. He remains unperturbed, limping into his future. The handshake is firm. The interview can begin.
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Party of Paris. Is that always the case, your life?
Rafael Nadal. After a degree, yes.
We saw you lose a bit in the last minute of the final against Casper Ruud. What were you thinking?
To earn the point. And especially to end the game. As soon as there is a chance of victory, in a final, you have to take advantage of it. So I focused on concluding. Emotions come later … I was probably a little nervous before I got to the track. But okay, I got it.
Before you play, do you feel the same as you did twenty years ago, during your first ATP tournament?
I deeply love what I do, I still have the fire. But there are a lot of things that interest me outside of tennis: spending time with my family, playing golf, going out to sea … People think I’ve dedicated my life to tennis, but that’s not true. I am very professional in my way of working, I train with real intensity.
I am very close to my father, to my mother: it is obvious when you see us together.
At the age of 12, he had to choose between tennis and football. It wasn’t obvious …
It was life that took me there, because I couldn’t play football, train tennis and attend class at the same time. The Spanish tennis federation suggested that I move to Barcelona. But my uncle – who was my coach – knew that in Mallorca he played with a good group, surrounded by good players, and that everything was going well. One of the keys to success was staying home. I never had any doubts about it. Don’t forget I was a kid, my career would have been very different if I hadn’t had my family. She helped me grow in that environment.
It’s still like this: your family is always with you.
Except I’m not a kid anymore! [Il rit.] But it is as if we all live in the same village. Everyone talks and everyone knows each other. I am very close to my father, to my mother: it is obvious when you see us together.
Are they the ones who took you when you weren’t winning?
My dad was always there for me, but he never pressured me. At first, it was my uncle’s role. It was he who gave me the motivation to play with such intensity. He pushed me to train over and over again. Every day with him was like playing the game of my life. I stayed … It was thanks to this mentality that I was able to get out of complicated sports situations and painful personal situations.
What do you think?
In different injuries, for example. At the time, I was happy to have my family close to me to talk about something other than tennis. When I have important confidences to make, I turn to my parents. And since in Porto Cristo [sa résidence à Majorque] see you every day, help …
You explained the ordeal that was this Roland-Garros, because of your foot injury. How can we play while suffering?
It’s a new chapter in my story … I had an injection in my foot to stop feeling the pain. It can be used once, but not every tournament. Tomorrow, if we find a way to reduce the pain, I will keep playing. But only if it is bearable.
Roger Federer and I are friends, we trust each other. We know we have a form of heritage to defend
Are you afraid of what will happen in the coming days and weeks?
I was never afraid to stop. I have never been afraid to retire. I even think I’ve been ready for a long time, because I’ve been living for months without being able to play. I know there will be many things to live once out of this world. For now, I hope to continue. Because I still have the fire. But it’s not up to me …
You reigned in the Grand Slam with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. How did your legend feed these “Big Three”?
People liked our sporting rivalry. He created something magical, because the three of us have been on the circuit for a long time. Some of our clashes have become legendary matches. People who aren’t necessarily interested in tennis get into it when we meet. In doing so, we have done something important for our discipline.
Were you congratulated on your victory in Paris?
We are close. Roger was one of the first to send me a congratulatory message. Roger and I are friends, we trust each other. We know that we have a form of heritage to defend and that we may both do so in the future. We can say that we admire each other.
Since your victory in Melbourne in January, we have been talking about a rebirth …
No way ! The first two months of 2022 will remain unforgettable for me, perhaps because I was not the favorite in Melbourne and Acapulco. Then I hurt my hip and the pain in my foot came back … This last trimester was very hard.
But you win over and over again …
With a little help, it’s possible. [Il rit.] The audience gives me crazy energy.
Becoming a good person is not what guarantees success, but it is the most important way to achieve it.
The King of Spain has declared you the best Spanish athlete of all time.
I try not to listen too much! I even have a statue in Roland-Garros, of which I am very proud. But I do my best to remain a simple, normal guy. I don’t see myself as a hero, I don’t behave like that.
However, you are a role model for many young athletes …
Maybe, but I continue to follow my path while remaining as humble as possible. I’ve seen people, in this business, do anything. And they got lost along the way … I was very polite, they always advised me to be respectful, to have a positive attitude. This is how I see both sport and life.
What do you tell young people who dream of your career?
There are several ways to find success: following more or less respectable values or looking for ways to always be happier. Becoming a good person is not what guarantees success, but it is the most important way to achieve it.
You’ve been married for two years. Why did you wait so long to marry Xisca?
We got married to have a big party. Basically, not much has changed in our lives, since we’ve been together for seventeen years. But there came a time in our lives when we thought it was the right time to do it …
Tiger Woods is still a great source of inspiration for me.
Is having a stable relationship the key to your success?
This helps. In sports, especially tennis, you need to stay focused every day of your life. If you are not emotionally stable, it is much more complicated.
Can’t afford any extravagance?
I don’t drink alcohol every day, but I do when I’m with friends or at a party. Luckily!
Do you have heroes?
Tiger Woods, who is still a great source of inspiration for me. After all that has happened, all that has happened, is still here; he even came back from the bottom of the hole. He never gave up and faced all the challenges.
See you next year in Paris?
I hope so, but for now I can’t answer you.