Interview: I am Human
On Tuesday, a very nice interview conducted with Rafa after his US Open win was posted to the El País site. Thanks to Genny, we have a translation.
“Soy humano” (“I’m Human”)
by Juan José Mateo for El País (as translated by genny_ss)
The champion drains a couple of orange juices. Sitting on a sofa, Rafa Nadal gets up to turn off a radio, whose sizzling is filling with interferences our conversation about his epic duel with Djokovic and his feelings of this season after returning to the courts in February, following seven months of being out due to an injury in the left knee. While chatting, the Cup awaits on a chair.
Question. Since returning to play, you have added 13 tournaments played, 10 titles, two finals and a first round. What would have changed in your career if you had played before with the current aggression?
Answer. I do not know if I would have achieved everything I’ve got. It is vital that one is prepared, that your game goes in line with what your head is ready to take. The most important thing is that your game goes according to your head, because your shots cannot get ahead of what your head is ready to take. In the past I do not know if I had the ability to play this way. It is also true that things get magnified. If you see me playing in the Beijing Olympics 2008 [HE WON THE GOLD], Wimbledon, or here in New York in 2010, I also played very aggressive, at a very high level of intensity and aggression. Now I’m doing it more exaggerated, playing a little closer to the baseline than before, but my career has always progressed in that direction. Obviously, in recent times it has been necessary to emphasize it a little more. I do not think it’s a radical change. I have gone step by step.
Q. “Possibly no one takes this level out of me as Djokovic does,” you said after winning. Would you be surprised with yourself if you saw the video of the best points?
A. When I practice, when I work, I cannot get to do the things I do when I compete, thus in the end it is always surprising. What happens is that I know from experience that when I’m playing well, with intensity, with confidence, I am able to hit that extra shot, special shot, in the important points, in the tense moments of the matches. While practicing it is impossible to find that shot that you’d find due to the determination, emotion, focus, which makes you improve yourself momentarily by the exigency of the match. It happens to everyone. To Novak, to Federer, to me… When we compete and we are under the maximum demand, mentally, physically and tennis wise, we always give a little more.
Q. In a match like the final, at high pace and constant trending changes, do you have time to think or does it all depend on the inspiration of the moment?
A. You have an idea, of course you think. When you play against opponents who demand so much from you, you have to have a clear idea and then you improvise in each point because there are not two equal balls. Each ball is different. I can take the decision of hitting a forehand down the line, but there are balls that I cannot hit that way. You have to vary but knowing that, at the smallest opportunity, you have to follow your plan because otherwise you will lose court. At times during the match, Novak pushed me and I lost a meter of court. At the end of the second set, beginning of the third, he was dominating because he did not miss a return, he was doing everything that can be done inside a court. He was very difficult to stop, pretty much in the same way that I think I dominated in the first set, I played at the highest level. There are times to withstand. [It is] the same with the backhand, I know that I cannot lose court, that I cannot give him much angle, that I have to aim at the middle. I managed to do it.
Q. How do you define Djokovic?
A. He is a player who does with ease the most difficult things in tennis. He is able to do what is really difficult, change direction, returning the way he does and always sending the ball inside the court, with little effort. It is the most complicated. He does all this with incredible ease.
Q. Then why are you able to beat him?
A. I do it less easily than him, but I guess I also do it, by putting a little more effort, intensity, passion in every shot than him. Surely I end up doing the most difficult things in tennis, otherwise you do not win matches like this one.
Q. “Only my team knows what this team means to me.” What does it mean?
A. I mean all those who have been with me at this time, in the daily doubt on how I am going to evolve, at work without getting a positive result for many months. After all, the knee bothers me many days, it keeps on bothering [he refers to the left knee that kept him away from the court for seven months, until February 2013]. There are days that I cannot do everything I want to do, that I have to measure the daily efforts. It is very difficult to achieve what has been achieved having to measure all that stuff. Winning in itself is hard, even more when you have things that make you not be one hundred percent paying attention to the ball and the racket. Getting abstracted from all these things to be focused, maintaining the enthusiasm and motivation for the victory and the daily struggle has merit, I think. Largely thanks to all of them who help me daily at the moments… I’m human. I have low moments. They push me to continue.
Q. There is a photo where you can see your left quadriceps, the one that must hold that knee, with very pronounced muscles.
A. It is a picture… I have worked hard, but in the end, this quadriceps [he points at the right leg] goes on being much stronger than this [the left, holding the knee that made him be out of the tour for seven months]. We keep working as much as possible, but at no moment, not even today, I can work on power as much as I need for this leg to be as strong as it needs to be. The photo of the quadriceps is nice, but at force level I know that it is not very well. It is true that you need to be a little better to work on the power. It is hard for me.
Q. During the final you ended up on the floor, stumbled. You immediately got up as if a spring had boosted you. Did you want to erase any sign of weakness?
A. I almost never do things thinking of the opponent, but of myself. When I get up quickly I do not do it thinking of not giving any signal to the opponent, but on the contrary, to give me the feeling that OK, I have lost that point, which was a shame because I had it under control… but let’s go to the next. It is a crucial moment. It was 4-4, 0-30. There was no margin. I know I have to save that game. It is my business. It is telling myself: ‘Come on, it is not the time to stay here [on the floor]. Get up and go on’.
Q. You are the virtual number one. If you regain the position, three years will have passed since you last ended the season as number one. No player has been able to return to the first post after so long. Does it reflect your ability to resurrect?
A. I have numbers that are very positive. With the physical issue, for many years, many people have been saying that I am not going to last long, and in the end I’m the player to have won majors for more years in a row [nine years]. That means that my body has responded and continues to respond. This other data of the three years also means that the motivation for the sport is still there. Sometimes you need to go through bad times to react. Last year I did not need it really, because I had already reacted to a hard time in 2011 [there began his streak of seven consecutive finals lost to Djokovic]. In 2012 I started with a different energy. I did not need the reinvention in 2013. I was already ready to fight for everything I’ve fought this year. My body would not let me. That stays inside of you. When I returned, I did it with all I have. Sometimes, all you have is x, sometimes all you have is x plus much more. Luckily, this year it has been x plus much more.
Q. You only lack winning the Masters Cup. Do you see it possible?
A. Feasible, it is. I played the final and I lost in three sets against Federer. But it is complicated, too. In part it is unfair that not all players have the same chances of winning this important tournament, which is a reward for the achievements throughout the year on all surfaces. Why does the tournament for which you qualify for playing well on all surfaces have to be [played] always on the same [surface]? It seems illogical and a little unfair. Moreover, I have been unlucky since in the years I’ve competed, it has been in the worst conditions for me, indoor and hard [when the tournament was in Houston, it was outdoors]. The bad luck is this. It is not the right time to complain about anything, but to fight with what there is, to adapt my game to arrive well prepared and to try to be competitive.
Q. When you have achieved everything, what you dream of at night?
A. I go to bed happy for what life is giving me and grateful to all who help me to make it real. The motivation is the same as for anyone who is lucky enough to work on something he likes, be good at it and able to experience all that I am living. I go to bed feeling that I am very lucky. I wish I can continue to enjoy the competition for many years, because it is something that fills me. Not just winning, but the opportunity to compete at the highest level.
Q. Whenever you win there abound comments thanking you for providing positive news in a tough time for the country. Do you feel responsible?
A. No, I don’t. The situation is complicated and what we need is good news. I will not lie. Luckily I have never lived situations like many people are living in Spain, but in a way I have also had tough moments, in 2009, in 2012, although in life it is not possible to compare, because the concerns are different, and anyone suffering to make ends meet… In my case, while going through low mood times, seeing good news from fellow Spaniards triumphing over the world in these bad times, makes me emotional, gives me happiness, encourages me, which is what one needs. I do not think I help in particular, but surely many people are excited to see that one Spaniard wins in New York. It’s an important load of positive energy.