In a very interesting interview, Rafael Nadal talked about his different approach from Novak Djokovic, his ambition to still be able to compete at the top level for two years, and the new generation that is coming on strong.
“I enjoy what I do. I’m happy to be playing tennis. I’m happy to be in Monte-Carlo (the interview was conducted last week), to play in a great tournament again and it goes without saying that I want to win more Slams. There is no doubt about that,” Nadal said in the exclusive interview with metro.co.uk and George Bellshaw.
“But I’ve never been obsessed with Slams, Novak is more obsessed with it – I mean that in a good way. He just focuses more on those things, they mean a lot to him. He talks a lot about those records and good for him, I just have a different approach to my career.
A health-driven approach. It goes without saying that I’m ambitious, if I wasn’t I would never be in the position I am today, but I probably have a different kind of ambition than he does. I just keep doing what I’m doing and try to enjoy my time on tour, while obviously wanting to have as much success as I can. I’m very happy with my career. Not just today, for many years I’ve been satisfied, but that doesn’t mean I want to retreat or lose my motivation. I just don’t get so disappointed when I lose a tournament, I have a different approach.”
Of the end of his career, which is inevitably approaching, Nadal said: “I’m definitely not going to play until I’m 45. I’m trying to do the best things I can to stay on the tour as long as I can. As everyone knows, the day will come when I won’t be able to continue. But right now I’m happy with what I’m doing. I’m enjoying it and I hope to be able to be in tournaments for the next couple of years.”
Nadal has had a fantastic career, but when it comes to his performances on clay tournaments, the conversation goes beyond that and we’re talking about some unrealistic numbers that certainly won’t be surpassed for many years. Among many unthinkable records, he has won Roland Garros 13 times, the Monte-Carlo Masters 11 times and the Internazionali BNL d’ Italia 9 times.
“I know some numbers are completely crazy and I could never have dreamed them. At the same time, I’ve never had enough time to work on those numbers. I hope to do so at the end of my career. Right now I’m just focused on tennis and keep doing what I’m doing.
Tennis is going fast. We have a lot of tournaments in the year, for example in this clay season I will play Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, then probably Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. So I don’t have time to sit back and think that I’ve won that tournament.
I’ve certainly had a lot of success in that part of the season, but that’s in the past. This is a different year. So I have to practice every day, have the right attitude and try to put myself back in a position to be competitive to begin with.”
A few years ago, it was hard to imagine that 3 players would surpass – and by far – the record of 14 Grand Slam titles held by Pete Sampras, who for several years was considered the best of all time.
“It also shows what we’ve done over the last 15-20 years, it’s something that’s hard to repeat. But everyone thought the same about Pete and we ended up doing better. There will probably be someone in the future who will pass us, but it certainly won’t be easy.”
On the role his great rivals Federer and Djokovic have played in making him the athlete he is today: “When you have great opponents, they help you get better and better. I’ve always had great opponents, from the beginning of my career there was Roger. Then Novak came along, not too much later. I’ve always had great players in front of me, challenging for the same things and that gives you a clear path.
But I also like to think that my personal motivation is even greater than the motivation to beat the great opponents you have in front of you. I play for my team, I play for the fans, I play for the family, and of course I play for myself. Not for others, not for my opponents.
My approach has been to always try to become a better player, because that’s how I understand the sport. Every day I go on the court and try to improve something, with the goal of getting better. Not because I have to be better than Roger or Novak. But of course, having players like that in front of you helps you to have a clearer vision of what you need to do better.”
Finally, on the young generation slowly gaining ground and claiming more and more major titles, the Spaniard said: “It’s normal, we are growing up. It’s normal for new generations to come and it’s true that today’s new generation has amazing players, it makes it very interesting. Medvedev, Zverev, Tsitsipas, Thiem – even though he’s not as young as the others, of course Shapovalov, maybe even Felix, Rublev… It’s a generation with a lot of good players. We’ll see what happens in the next 2 years. Who will be able to improve more than them and who will have the potential to reach more success.”