Monday, 4 October 2010

Nadal: I Never See Federer As A Rival

Last month, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal won the U.S. Open to complete a career Grand Slam of the four major tennis tournaments, becoming just the seventh man in history to do so. At 24, the left-handed Spaniard already has 42 career ATP titles to his credit, including nine Grand Slams, and has replaced Roger Federer as the premier player on the tour today. This week, Nadal will be playing his first-ever tournament in Japan at the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo. He sat down Monday to talk with Yomiuri Shimbun sportswriter Koji Yoshimi and Daily Yomiuri sportswriter Ken Marantz. Here are excerpts:

The Daily Yomiuri: Tell us about how you got started playing tennis.

Rafael Nadal: In a club in Mallorca. I started playing with two hands [both backhand and forehand], so one day I had to decide because I had to play the forehand [with] one hand. We decided to play with the left, because playing football I was lefty. I had to decide tennis or football at the age of 13. I didn't have a lot of time to do everything, so I decided tennis at that moment and it was a good selection.

Q: Was there a moment when you actually decided you could become a pro?

A: No, I went day by day, enjoying the sport. I love sport in general, I love football, I love tennis, I love golf, all sports. I love to practice every sport. At that moment, I was world champion under-12 in tennis, under-11, too, and after that I won the world championship under-14. So I was a better tennis player than a football player and I decided to play tennis.

Q: What kind of courts did you play on in Mallorca? Were they indoor or outdoor?

A: Outdoor, always, we have very good weather in Mallorca, we don't need indoor. I played on clay and hard, both.

Q: Is that why you are so good on clay?

A: I don't know if that's why I'm so good on clay. I didn't practice all my life on clay, I practiced on hard, too. My game probably adapts a little bit better to the clay than to the hard. But I think I improved a lot during the course of my career to be a better player on every surface.

Q: How do you feel about Roger Federer? Do you feel he's still your biggest rival?

A: I have a lot of respect for him and I think we have a very, very good relationship now. He's a very important player and very important person for our sport. I never see Roger like a rival. It's part of the game and for sure, I enjoyed with him a lot of important moments in our careers. Maybe for that reason, everybody says we are rivals. It's true, for like six years, we were 1 or 2, and 2 and 1 in the rankings. But I never see Roger like a rival. Roger is a very, very good player. What he did for tennis is something almost impossible to repeat. So I enjoy to be part of his career. To play with him always is a challenge and to have a very good player in front of me always makes me improve.

Q: Do you have a special strategy to beat him?

A: Sure you have a little bit of strategy and you know what you have to do, or what you have to try to do to win. But it's very difficult to do it against a perfect player like Roger. It's always a very difficult thing playing against him and you have to play perfectly if really want to have any chance to beat him.

Q:You said you have gained confidence this season. Are you more confident to beat Roger?

A: No, no. I think this year was a great season for me, what I did was more than I ever dreamed of. It's amazing to be here and win two Grand Slams and everything that happened to me was amazing. I don't have [more] confidence over him than three years ago. That was a very positive for my career this year. Last year, the last six months weren't that good. That's a fact of the situation. It's impossible to always be 100 percent.

Q: You're known as a hard worker. But to overcome your knee injury earlier this year, did you cut down on

A: I did the normal things. For sure I have to practice if I want to have a chance to be in the top position. I have to be careful about the physical performance, because every year you are one year older. I'm still 24, but you have to be careful about the physical performance, I think everybody has to be.

Q: Compared to when you were a teenager, how have you grown stronger mentally?

A: What I did better was practice everyday with high intensity and a very positive attitude to be a better player everyday. To keep improving my tennis even if I am in the top position of the world. In tennis, it's a very competitive game, all the matches [are decided] by a few points. If you improve your tennis and you are able to do different things in these difficult matches you will have more chances to win. These kind of matches change a lot the career.

Q: Is Wimbledon particularly difficult for you?

A: Every tournament is very difficult. No one tournament is easy. Sure my game adapts better to clay surface, but at Wimbledon I think is the second [-best] surface for me. I played already four finals there; two victories and two losses. I love to play on grass and that is one of the surfaces that when I'm playing well, I love to play there.

Q: How do you relax off the court?

A: When I am at home, I have all my friends, all my family. There I have very normal life. When I am in a tournament, I like to be at the hotel, relaxing, watching films.

Q: Do you have holidays in between tournaments?

A: Not much, two times. But not too much.

Q: We understand you are single. Do you have any plans for marriage?

A: No, not at the moment.

Q: Can you imagine yourself having a family like Federer?

A: I would love to have a family, but not during my tennis career. I think it's very difficult to do both things. I don't know, everybody has a different mentality. I want to enjoy this moment. Hopefully, my life will belong and I'm going to have lots of time to do other things.

Q: Do you hope for a long tennis career?

A: I hope so. I'm [only] 24 years old. Even if I finish now, my tennis career is a long time because I started when I was 16. I already have eight complete years on the tour. Everybody talks about if the career is long or short, if you finish at 24 or you finish at 30. But if you start at 21 and you finish at 29, it's ideal. If you start at 16 and you finish at 24, it's ideal, too. It's the same level.

Q: Any advice for young Japanese players?

A: I think everybody has a chance to do it. In every part of the world, you can do it. The important thing is to have the right people around you and have enough do it. It's a lot of work, a lot of hours. You have to be ready to enjoy the difficult moments, and to enjoy suffering a few times. But there are lot of very positive things the sport gives to you. So in general, I think the sport gives you much more than what another thing gives you.

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