Tough moments

Photo by Ian Langsdon/EPA

Photo by Ian Langsdon/EPA

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? ;)

30 Responses

  1. johanne says:

    I love Rafa. That is all. :)

  2. Sapphireswell says:

    The article shows what an emotional roller coaster Rafa’s life has been since Wimbledon 2007. He really deserves a big hug from each of us. :D

  3. Atch2 says:

    Great great article. The Brits luv Rafa.
    If Rafa can talk about his parents divorce more openly like this, he probably is ok with it now, which make me feel better.
    Luved the image of Rafa at Wimby 08-5th set going to the locker room “to eat a banana and calm his coach”. LOL
    And Rafa lost to the Sod in the semi’s? can we have the atp points to match that pls?

  4. patzin says:

    It was a very good interview. Rafa shines in his simplicity and maturity. I love this guy.

  5. ali says:

    i liked what he said about that second break thing in 07 wimby final…his aproach towards tennis is so perfect…so pure…so realistic….he is my hero forever whatever happens ….

  6. yoni says:

    I love him. He is even handed, fair minded and human! Of course his parent’s divorce affected him, rightly so. He is not a robot and we would not love him if he were. He is truly someone to look up to, regardless if he is a huge sports figure.

  7. loverafa4ever says:

    For me he is the best person in the history of sport. Amazing personality and he is only 23.

  8. CC says:

    Great interview.

    “…it wasn’t just the knees bothering him in Paris.”

    Did anyone think it ever was? To me it’s always been obvious that this year has been as much about being down mentally (if not more), as physically. The two go very much hand in hand, no? Pain in the heart equals more pain in the knees, I am certain.

    *blows big, fat kiss to Rafa*

    • miri says:

      No, but this is the most open he’s been to saying that, I think.

      • CC says:

        Yeah. And I’ve never wanted to comment on it before, as he’s never said anything. I think he’s done fantastically well this year, considering it all. I would have struggled much more, for sure.

      • CC says:

        Sorry if my first comment came across as being a bit arsy, not intended at all. :)

    • Ch F says:

      No, no one ever doubted the problem wasn’t just physical. I remember that some time around Rafa’s defeat we were all saying something is wrong and that his mind didn’t seem to be in it. He wasn’t happy on court and I remember it had come as a shock, at least for me. I agree that it is probably in Rafa’s personality to discuss something after he’s coped with it, or at least I hope so, because that would mean it can only be uphill from here ;-)

      Thanks a lot for the interview!Great as always.

      • Rafafan says:

        I agree. If you remember when he lost to Del Potro (think it was Mimi) when he was 3 – 0 up in the third set and then lost it all. In the interview on utube and others he didn’t mention it (or they cut it out) but in the transcript they asked him the same question about his mentality etc. and he said it was personal…. the papers then had a feel day do you remember? I certainly did and made a comment on it and to be honest 9 times out of 10 the papers are always right. I also notice about our Rafa he is not quite as pure and honest as he is made out to be. How many times have we said is there something wrong, something else have you an injury and then of course after the matches when he has lots he has conceeded. Makes me think also about his motivation, his improvement etc. He ain’t gonna say anything different than what we want to hear. The proof in the pudding is the eating – which means lets see him answer his critics on the court when he wins…………

  9. An says:

    I can only say that i’m so proud off Rafa, how he is handling things is a big example for me!

    And.. on yeah, off course that i love him!

  10. mary says:

    As saphireswell mentioned, it has been a rollarcoaster year for Rafa.
    But despite everything he remains true to himself. I agree that I always believed his personal pain exacerbated his knee tendinitus. I know when I’ve had an injury & there’s been a few, my environment was stable & happy, so the healing seemed to occur soooooo much quicker. And yeah CC I agree that his state of mind must be ‘colm’ for him to openly discuss it.
    Rafa when you do decide to retire, I’ll move to Mallorca. We’ll meet up while fishing & compete to see who can catch the bigger fish. I won’t discuss what else I have in mind. :) :) ;) Well possibly, maybe, probably. This G rated this site isn’t it? ;)

    • CC says:

      I wouldn’t have a clue if he’s with colm now, mary. Did I say that? I can’t even remember my own comments now… ;)

  11. Jinx says:

    Thanks for the article…i loved it
    OH MY GAWD HE IS MY DREAM MAN!!! I can’t handle this.

  12. aRafaelite says:

    Ah, it looks like another interviewer has succumbed to Rafa-love!!! This is a refreshingly candid interview. No doubt, he will be criticised for making excuses by fans of other players, but frankly it’s a relief to me to know that he’s finally talking about the elephant that’s been in the room for months. The healing has begun and I feel a lot more confident about his recovery (on and off the court). Knowing how much he hates to make excuses, I’m really glad he’s finally been able to acknowledge this at last. Well done Rafa :D

    • nic says:

      I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m so glad Rafa came out and said it about where he was at mentally and physically during RG. He never likes to make excuses, but surely we his great fans knew he was going through a lot. And he is with calm now, enough to finally speak about it openly, without the raw hurt of it all anymore. So glad for the healing too. Vamos dear Rafa.

  13. Serene says:

    I just love Rafa more and more everyday.

  14. mary from cincinnati says:

    Great interview! Proves again why we all love Rafa so much. His honesty, humbleness and maturity make him the greatest in his sport (or any sport IMHO)!

  15. Sam says:

    This was such a lovely article and such honesty from Rafa. I think this is the first time he has openly talked about his feelings about the divorce. I can only see this as a very positive move forward for Rafa; it proves that he has moved on and accepted the changes, and is looking towards the future.
    Once again Rafa has shown why he is such an important person in the world of tennis and indeed sport. What a wonderful man he is, and if there is any justice in this world he will have a rewarding and long career, starting with a successful 2010 season.
    God bless Rafa xxx

  16. shani h says:

    Rafa is just wonderful! His honesty charm and candour shone out from the pages and I’m so glad that he now feels that he can share this as usually he is guarded and very tactful when talking about his private life.

    I’m sure a lot of his fans in the UK will be at the O2 next week as I will to cheer him on. I had tickets for Queens and 1st Monday at Wimbledon this year to see Rafa walk out as defending champ…I ended up hiding in the Centre Court toilets as I couldn’t bear to see Roger Federer walk out in Rafa’s rightful place! Daft I know but that’s how I felt.

    I’m sure that 2010 will be a better year for him and our old Rafa will be back to his best….I don’t want to see that sad little face that lost to Soderling..it was completely unbearable to watch.

    • Emma says:

      It isn’t daft at all – or if it is, then I am completely daft too because that was exactly how I felt. I was thrilled to be at Wimbledon but there was a void there somehow. If he had retired from tennis I would still have missed him like I do other ex players, but at least there would be a sense of completion and you could look positively at their moments in making history. However to be yanked out of there three days before it started….Jesus. Watching Soderling didn’t really help either. If we feel like this, imagine how he must have felt. No don’t, it’s horrible.

      I just hope he has awareness of how much so many people love and support him. I can’t think of another player who would have induced this sort of outpouring of emotion to this extent.

      Loved the interview. More please. X

      • Sam says:

        The day Rafa retires I will cry, and cry, and cry, and cry….I don’t know how long it would be before it stopped either!!! Am dreading that day!! :-(

        • Emma says:

          Oh heavens sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that he was in any way going to retire any time soon…I am so not touching that subject in any way, shape or form again having dragged myself out of my post-Bercy teeth gnashing, baying at the sky slump:)

          Wobbled slightly at the “if I go at 25 at least I will have done 9 years” thing, but am determined to be positive, stay focussed, and all the other things Uncle T says are so good for us. Bring on What The Fck, and vamos for the DC.

  17. Dale C. A. says:

    I sooo love Rafa..the Athlete and the Person :-))

  18. Carol says:

    Gosh! I think everyone has covered all the issues here!

    From personal circs, I felt so much for our honey-man – so glad to hear he seems to have buried some demons…

    Even though I’ll only be about 60 miles away from Rafa in London I think I’m more looking forward to seeing the DC finals…