'I would love Andy Murray to win a grand slam,' admits Rafael Nadal
Just not this one, says defending champion, as he prepares to face 'one of the good guys' in Wimbledon semi-final
On the eve of the Wimbledon semi-finals there was more evidence, as if we needed it, that Rafael Nadal is relaxed and ready to break British hearts again. While Andy Murray kept to his routine with a light practice and as much time away from the All England Club as possible, the world No1 and defending champion looked and sounded utterly content.
Even the impromptu arrival of the former British Davis Cup captain Warren Jacques, halfway through the interview, did not unsettle him. "Come through," the Spaniard said as he opened the door to the small room near the players' lounge in which he sat, one leg over the other. The injections he is taking to numb the pain in his sore left foot are clearly not affecting his mood and it seems that everything is in place as he chases his third Wimbledon title.
Perhaps his secret lies in the relaxed way the Nadal clan approach Wimbledon. He stays in a house within seconds of the grounds; having been on the road for so long, the 25-year-old finds home comforts more important than most.
"I've only spent a week at home in the last five or six months so being in a house with the family and the team, that makes things a bit less tiring," he says. "I love being on the sofa watching the TV. In hotels they give me big rooms, but usually I'm alone. Here I'm in a house and you have more people around. I don't like it very much to be alone. I like to be with people. It's easy for that."
Nadal has been spotted in the supermarket and he has been showing off his cooking skills, with pasta top of the menu. But rumours that his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, is watching his weight may be wide of the mark. "He's on a special diet but it's a diet when you eat at every moment," Nadal laughs. "Before dinner he eats and after dinner he eats a hundred things more."
If it was not for his 10 grand slam titles and 36 other tournament victories, it would be hard to associate the Nadal who is courteous and who loves family life with the one who tears opponents apart on the court. On Friday he knows a whole country will be willing Murray to victory. And if Nadal was in the crowd instead of on the other side of the court, he would be leading the cheers.
"If I have to say one player who I want to win a grand slam, if it's not me, I would say it's Andy," Nadal says. "He deserves it. [Novak] Djokovic has already won a lot of things this year, [Juan Martín] Del Potro has won a grand slam. Del Potro's a fantastic player but he got to the semi-finals of a grand slam once and then he went on to win. Andy has been there seven times in the semi-finals. When you look at his career he deserves to win a grand slam. I know him as a person. I like him. He's a good guy. That's why I think it would be fair if he won a grand slam. The first thing is that I always want to wish the best to the good guys, the good people, and he's a good person."
It was Toni Nadal, Rafael's first and only ever coach, who instilled in him the importance of fairness. The trust between the two is unquestioning and Toni is the only coach who applauds his charge's opponents on court.
"In the end, it's a game," Nadal says. "Everybody wants to win but I feel lucky to be here and I feel lucky about everything that happened to me, so if I lose I can only congratulate Andy. If somebody's doing something really good, the normal thing is to congratulate the opponent and probably that's what Toni does. But that's not going to affect my match."
Considering that they spend their working life trying to knock each other off the court, it might seem strange that Nadal and Murray should be such good friends. Not to Nadal.
"A lot of people believe that competition is like life," says the Spaniard. "That's not how I see it. I love to win, I love the competition and I will try my best until the last moment but what happens away from the court is not going to affect what happens on the court. We can try our best on the court and when we are off it we can be close friends, because we are talking 10 minutes before the match.
"I always go with the good people, not with the bad people or arrogant people. I know Andy is not like this. He's a normal guy. He hasn't changed with all the victories. That's always a very positive thing for our sport, a positive example for all the kids and everybody. That's why I like him and that's why I wish him all the best."
When Nadal steps on to court , though, he will not allow himself to worry about how devastated Murray might be if another chance goes begging. "I am sure he's going to win a grand slam but probably not this time," he says, before quickly correcting himself. "Sorry. That is a mistake in my English. I meant 'hopefully'."