A new article by Donald McRae in the guardian.co.uk: For everybody there are tough moments. This year, mine came. Some excerpts:
Re Federer’s breakdown in Australia:
“For sure,” he says earnestly in Paris. “He always did a very good job for our sport and he is a nice person. I have spent the most important moments of my career playing against Roger – and the same is for him, too, playing against me. So we have a big respect and, off the court, we have a very good relationship.”
He goes on to refuse to pick on a guy who was down – unlike the way the press picked on Federer at the time and/or the press is picking on Rafa now.
Nadal has won 13 of their 20 matches and, most tellingly, five of his seven grand slam finals against Federer. In Melbourne, surely he thought he had the definitive mental edge over Federer? “No. For everybody there are tough moments. Unluckily for me, this year mine came when I arrived at the most important tournaments in the worst possible condition. You always have some ups and downs and, in that moment, Roger was a little down. But he was down in the final. It was not like he was losing in the second round. And the rest of the year he has had a lot of good moments.”
Then, there was a reversal of fortune. Fed was riding a wave of success while Rafa was the one having problems.
Federer overcame his French Open neurosis to win his 14th grand slam while, three weeks later, he achieved his record-breaking 15th victory at Wimbledon. “It was a hard moment for me,” Nadal admits. “I can’t play Wimbledon and it’s my favourite tournament. I also lost at Roland Garros and I have a few personal problems. So everything coming together made it hard.”
Nadal’s gaze remains steady as he recounts the source of that turmoil. “My parents’ divorce made an important change in my life. It affected me. After that, when I can’t play Wimbledon, it was tough. For one month I was outside the world.”
Nadal looks terribly young amid that quiet admission. “I am OK now,” the 23-year-old says of his parents’ divorce, “but you need time to accept. And it’s more difficult to accept when you are outside home and don’t know what’s happening. At least the injury gave me time to be with my friends and family.”
As much as it sucked for his professional career that he missed an important tournament, I think it was probably important for him to be at home in order to deal with these personal issues in a way that will settle for the long term. (If that makes any sense.)
Severe tendinitis and the collapse of his parent’s marriage undermined Nadal’s composure at Roland Garros. “I played with less calm. One of the reasons was the pain in the knees. And I was down because of the divorce. Soderling played really well and he beat me. But I wasn’t ready, mentally or physically, this year.”
I think this is the most clear-cut public admission he’s made that it wasn’t just the knees bothering him in Paris.
In regards to his calm during the fifth set rain delay in Wimbledon last year:
It almost sounds as if enjoyed that test of his character? “I was suffering a little bit!” Nadal laughs. “But the year before I lost to Roger in the fifth set. It was hard for me to lose when I had three or four break points in that fifth set [which Federer won 6-2]. What killed me was that second break. If I lose 6-3 or 6-4 with one break I accept. But I was angry with myself to lose that second break. That made it seem as if I wasn’t ready mentally.”
And his reaction to hearing that Agassi is saying he hated tennis:
His words contrast with Andre Agassi’s claims in his recent autobiography that, despite winning eight grand slams, he “hated tennis” and sought refuge in crystal meth. Nadal raises an eyebrow. “I think it’s impossible to be on the circuit 15 years and hate tennis. I always saw Andre playing with motivation and passion.”
While, I’m not fully buying into Agassi’s “I hated tennis” stuff (don’t get me started on him), Rafa saw him in the later part of his career when Agassi said he’d come to better terms with what tennis meant to his life. He says he still hated it, but now it was his choice to play and continue hating it.
Have Agassi’s confessions damaged tennis? “It’s a big thing for the ATP. I understand if he was depressed he might have taken something so I don’t want to criticise Andre for taking crystal meth. But everybody must be treated the same. Just because he is Andre Agassi he should not escape sanction. Tennis is a hard sport. There is a lot of competition all year and you play alone. Mentally and physically it is one of the toughest sports – but that’s no reason to take these products [drugs].”
Thank you, interviewer, for getting this right and putting this bit down. I’m so tired of the press saying that Federer and Rafa have come down hard on Agassi’s meth use. They didn’t. They were pissed about the ATP’s non-action on it and it was that non-action and Agassi’s revealing of it that cast a shadow over the sport.
And, of course, there’s talk of the schedule:
Tennis’s year-round schedule also does not allow its star players to recover between seasons. “I completely agree,” Nadal exclaims. “Maybe you could have nine months where it is obligatory to play and three months where you are free not to. In those three months there could be tournaments – but not decisive tournaments which affect your ranking. But we have the sponsors to consider. The ATP want to do it but I think it’s going be better for the next generation than us.”
The problem is, no one entity is in charge of tennis. None of the tournament directors are going to agree to their tournament becoming optional – they lose sponsors and money. It’s a very tangled mess and it’s difficult to see how it can ever sort itself out and leave a majority of the parties happy.
He goes on to give his current standard answers to “how long can your career last” and do you get ticked at people writing you off – hint, he’s more patient with them than I am.
After the most difficult year of his career Nadal himself is still driven by a simple purity of purpose. It underpins both his ferocious dedication to tennis and his winning humility off court: “I always work with a goal – and the goal is to improve as a player and a person. That, finally, is the most important thing of all.”
Why do I feel like I was just read the end of a bed-time story? ;)