Interview: On injury, recovery, returns and doping controls
Rafel Nadal: “Maybe this break will allow me to lengthen my carreer a little more” – by Ricard Cabot (Translation by @genny_ss and @gandaines.)
Rafel Nadal Parera (Manacor, 1986) is happy. For the first time in the last six months he’s not feeling discomfort in those knees that have bothered him so much. Fresh out of the shower, he tells Diario de Mallorca his feelings, that what he is missing most is “the adrenaline of competition” and that he faces returning to winning ways “as an exciting challenge.”
Q. What’s growing, uncertainty or hope?
A. Hope. In the last month and a half the evolution has been pretty good. I am very happy.
Q. Plans keep on being the same, coming back in Abu Dhabi and then going to Australia.
A. The schedule is this, but let’s be honest, I’ve been five months out of competing and without training at a high level. If I can train at a high level in the remaining weeks, I will be able to go to Doha with the ambition of competing and playing, with no expectations about the result.
Q. And thinking of winning in Australia is a chimera, as of today.
A. It’s very difficult to get good results at the beginning. I hope to be in optimal condition at the end of February or early March, well prepared physically, mentally and tennis wise.
Q. What has been the worst in these six months of being sidelined?
A. First, not being able to play Wimbledon, and then when I had to withdraw from the Games. And later, the uncertainty of knowing when the knee would start being well. The doctors said it was not a very complicated injury, but the fact is that the knee was not right. The first three months, without seeing an evolution and going to the gym with no results, were tough.
Q. Did you get discouraged?
A. I am a very positive person, and I have had my team and my family to help me through this difficult time. I have been happy because I’ve been with my people.
Q. For the first time in a decade you have been half a year at home. Have you felt strange, have you discovered forgotten pleasures?
A. I am fairly familiar, and when a tournament is over, if I can, the first thing I do is to go back to Mallorca. Nothing has changed.
Q. Have you felt pressure to return to the circuit?
A. No, on the contrary, I’m very grateful to the sponsors, who have understood the situation and made things easy. They have supported me in every moment. Maybe this break will allow me to lengthen my career a little more.
Q. They are different injuries, but Del Potro has struggled to be back to his previous level. Are you afraid that the same thing may happen to you?
A. It will happen whatever it has to. It is the beauty of life in general, it is a challenge for me. I know it will cost me to get back all that I have achieved in recent years. I will do all the necessary work, always thinking positive.
Q. An injury of this type should be used to give everything the right value and relativize the fact of whether or not be the number 1.
A. Being number 1 is not a priority. You either are #1 or you are not. It depends on winning many games and being respected by injuries. I have spent eight years in a row in the top-2. Obviously, I prefer to be #2 to #4, but what makes me happy is to have the chance to win a tournament, go out on court and compete with options, be competitive, be in control of the situation. For me, it is a fun and exciting challenge.
Q. From the beginning you made it clear that his injury has not made anyone retire. Why?
A. There is always speculation. The regeneration of the tendon is complicated and takes time. That is how it is.
Q. Have you been seeking info on your injury, consulted encyclopedias, Google?
A. No, I do not obsess about these issues. I trust the doctors who have treated me.
Q. The day you withdrew from the London Games, was it the worst day of your career?
A. It was the event I’ve felt worst in my life for having to withdraw. It was worse in 2005 when I had a foot injury, it was more problematic and more serious than this one. Moreover, this injury comes now when I am 26 years old, after having achieved more than I could have imagined, so things are seen more calmly.
Q. When you were introduced as the Spanish-flag bearer, didn’t you have any doubt about going?
A. After Wimbledon I didn’t feel OK, but you trust that things will recover. I was not convinced that I would go. They were timely informed of the risk we were under and I had doubts about whether it was appropriate to attend the presentation or not. They asked me to go, and I dit it with pleasure.
Q. When did the knee start to bother?
A. In Indian Wells it wasn’t well and it got really bad by the semifinals of Miami, where I retired against Murray. Between Miami and Monte Carlo I had two weeks to rest and the clay surface was good because it is less aggressive than the hard court. I competed with discomfort, but without limitations. In the semifinals of Roland Garros I played with the knee infiltrated, which is very bad for the tendon, but at the time I was thinking more about winning my seventh Roland Garros than in the knee.
Q. You went to Wimbledon being aware that maybe you should not have gone.
Q. Being eliminated in the second round against world number 100 was a surprise.
A. No. The previous two weeks I trained only one hour a day, without running, very bad, and playing with the knee numb. I had no chance to advance more rounds. You always think you can, but it was not possible even though I tried my best.
Q. If you could go back, would you play at Wimbledon again?
A. I cannot go back. These are things that I can’t think of. If you tell me now, I would not play. It is easy to analyze it here, but when you’re there, in the heat of competition, having won Roland Garros, things look differently.
Q. Which defeat hurt you more, that against Lukas Rosol or the one to Soderling at Roland Garros 2009?
A. They have no point of comparison. Both have in common that I was bothered by the knee, but in Roland Garros I could compete. In Wimbledon, no. The defeat to Rosol was a foretold death for me.
Q. Are changes of surface what you fear most now?
A. Surface changes are always aggressive and you have to try to avoid them. I will play in Acapulco to compete on clay, gain confidence and rhythm.
Q. Will your calendar depend on how you feel?
A. I have already done my calendar, I have it all planned out. What I cannot predict is whether my knee will be better or worse and if I will win more or less matches. This is not about the tournaments you play, but about the matches you dispute.
Q. It is the same with the Davis Cup.
A. I cannot deny that I see it very complicated to play the first round, but you never know. In Davis Cup I live emotions that are different from what I feel in other tournaments and I have really enjoyed playing it.
Q. How is tennis seen from the sidelines?
A. I’ve watched tennis sporadically, but not everyday. When you are at home and you cannot do what you like, you prefer to do other things. I’ve watched some matches that I was excited to see.
Q. The virtues and flaws of the rival are best detected watching the game on TV?
A. We all know each other, there are no surprises.
Q. There seems to be unanimity in that tennis has lost some interest without you. As if something is missing.
A. I don’t think I’m the right person to say it. There have been exciting moments. Murray won his first Grand Slam and Olympic gold, David Ferrer his first Masters 1000. And I’m happy for them. I guess David will pass me in the rankings in January, and I will be happy for him. Above the athlete, the opponent, it is the person.
Q. Have you been in touch with Federer, Djokovic or Murray?
A. They have sent me messages of support and I’ve congratulated them when they have won.
Q. Can you say that Federer is your friend?
A. I have my friends in Manacor, they are lifetime friends. Then there’s Carlos Moya and Marc Lopez, among others. I consider Federer, Murray or Djokovic as comrades/mates. Unfortunately I don’t have 300 friends. They are who they are.
Q. How has a normal day been in the last few months?
A. Hours of recovery in the gym and a little of what I can’t do when I’m away.
Q. You’ve taken it [this time off] as if you were on some kind of holidays.
A. The holidays are really holidays when you want to be on vacation. When your head is on something else, it is not a vacation. But I’ve spent more time at the sea.
Q. Have you missed the fuss of the tournaments, with all that it entails, such as trips, matches, press conferences, advertising commitments?
A. I have fulfilled the advertising commitments. What I’ve noticed missing is the absence of competition, feeling the adrenaline of the competition. To tell you the truth, it is now when I miss the circuit, because it is now when I’m starting to feel well. When you feel bad, you do not think of playing.
Q. You use social networks quite often.
A. It is a very important communication medium that allows me to keep in touch with my fans. It’s the future.
Q. Do you see yourself playing until …?
A. Until the body and the head endure. My goal is to reach Brazil 2016 in good shape.
Q. When you retire, do you imagine life very different from that of the last few months?
A. I guess so. I imagine it will be a little quiet at first, but I love the sport in general and I will continue in it one way or another. Fundamentally tennis, but I do not rule out to participate in other sports.
Q. Has the crisis somehow reached tennis? Do you know if when you face a low ranked player, he’s having a bad time financially?
A. The truth is, the crisis has reached all sectors directly or indirectly. Anyone who says otherwise wants to deceive himself. But at an economic level, it has not affected the circuit, which continues to grow. However it is not the time to show-off about anything. It’s time to work, to accept that we are going through a bad time and try to have the attitude necessary to change the situation, from the people in the street to those who lead us.
Q. Have you noticed it in your environment?
A. I’m from Mallorca, Manacor, I belong to this world. I have colleagues who are having a hard time, and when you see adverse situations you can’t stay on the sidelines. You suffer with them and help in what you can.
Q. Have you gone through doping controls in these months?
A. Yes, however I do not complain about the controls, but the forms [the procedure]. It’s easy to look good and not say anything about it, but I’m not that way. I say it clearly, I want anti-doping testing, but they make us go through some unpleasant situations that I can’t agree with or support. At six thirty this morning I did a blood and urine control. So did yesterday at six twenty. Two days in a row.This is not how it should be for being an athlete. The fact that they call at your door that early makes you feel scared to death because it could mean that something really bad has happened. In addition, I live with my parents.
Q. Why at six in the morning and two days in a row?
A. You have to be located, 365 days a year, an hour a day, which I proposed and in my case it is at seven. I do not think it is legal, because it goes against your privacy and security. It seems incoherent and unnecessary to me. The third time that you are not found you are punished with a year, at least. When they come, I invite them to have a coffee. They are workers and I have nothing against them. I want to go through controls. I know that I’m clean, never in my life I would take anything. I understand the sport as a philosophy, and I would rather retire before cheating.
Q. Is being a sports icon tiring, boring, a heavy burden?
A. It would be arrogant of me to qualify myself in this way. On the contrary, what is happening to me is very positive, I have been able to live things that I have never dreamt of and I am grateful to life for everything that has happened to me.