The Spanish publication Magazine posted a lengthy interview with Rafa last week. After I tweeted that I planned on doing a translation, I received a message from nou.amic stating she’d already completed a translation for the Vamos Brigade website and I was free to share it as long as it was properly attributed. So, thanks to her for this translation.
Print edition: pages 20-26 Magazine, La Vanguardia Sunday supplement, 6 December 2015.
RAFA NADAL: “The hopes you have are what you are”
The king of clay has had his time in the wilderness, but, despite his injuries and mental anxiety, day by day he is reestablishing himself. Rafa Nadal understands those that say he is on the decline, although he has a very different plan: “I’ve been worse than in other years, but some time ago I decided to keep fighting and competing. I don’t know whether I’ll manage it or not. The hopes you have are what you are,” he declares.
By Felip Vivanco. Translated by nou.amic for http://www.VamosBrigade.com
The modest dressing room that awaits the artist has a rectangular mirror and a weak soft light. No sign of the iconic row of filament light bulbs that everyone imagines. The artist is Rafael Nadal, and his light is shining brightly if we compare it with the rest of the season that just ended a few days ago in London where, exhibiting improvement, he reached the semi-finals of a tournament he has yet to win. At times this year, the tennis of the champion, whose titles there is no need to enumerate, has shone weakly and softly, like the mirror in the dressing room, nothing at all like his blinding trademark conviction and energy. On occasions there was scarcely a beam of light, as he succumbed to players much lower than him in the ranking. At times he has even had power cuts and short circuits. Nevertheless, at the end of the year, he radiated hope with clear energetic play, even on hardcourts, which he finds the hardest and which are hardest on him physically.
The Mallorcan tennis player – who just before the interview presented a commercial spot for the Banc Sabadell, featuring him and his uncle Miguel Ángel, in the Palma Auditorium, which was attended by hundreds of people (including practically his whole family) – confessed, however, that the worst injury he had had this year was a “mental” one. He spoke about anxiety, about not being able to control his body the way he would have liked, about how tiring it is to “battle with oneself”. “For the first time in my career,” he admitted, “I haven’t been in control of my emotions.” He is now firmly back in the driving seat and has the grip on his racquet he has always had, with his gaze set on a new season where he will attempt to keep reaching semi-finals and finals and once again bite trophies. This same year the tennis academy that bears his name (RafaNadalAcademy.com) is to open. Nadal fights, so he exists; he has a goal, so he exists. The phrase he fires off to express this could be a slogan or a winner hitting the line: “The hopes you have are what you are”.
You say: “I’m back fighting again”. You made an effort for months but things didn’t work out for you.
They didn’t work out because I was fighting against myself. I spent months fighting with myself, and in these recent weeks I’m back competing again, but against my opponents, which is much more the idea in tennis. In the end, you can’t waste your time struggling against yourself. During matches you need to fight the guy across the net, if that’s not the case, if it’s yourself you’re up against, then obviously you lose a lot.
Was it a long and difficult task to get out of this labyrinth?
Short or long is an appraisal of time, long for one can be short for others. Difficult? No, other things in life are difficult. Sometimes they like to dramatise events, and there’s no drama here. In 2015, I didn’t have the control I’ve had in other years, and that’s it. There was no drama, no problems too many. The only thing is you want to solve your problems and for things to turn out well because it’s what you do. When you’re focused on your job, though I don’t consider it that, you want everything to go well. Of course, this year’s been worse than others but I’ve worked and worked a lot to resolve it.
Is it true that your career is defined by your opponents?
… Well, a tennis player’s career is not just about winning and losing, it’s also about excelling oneself. In the end, beating others is a consequence of improving year after year, it’s the product of evolution, of getting better and better. Your rivals indicate what you require, and that’s important, but from there on, the hopes you have are what you are, the spirit of sacrifice and the desire to get better are what you are.
In recent months, I’d say you’ve worked even harder if that’s possible.
Yes, I’ve worked more because my body’s allowed me to, not because there was a time a didn’t want to work. I’ve had problems with injuries and I’ve had to keep on measuring my exertions, I’ve always had something wrong with me. (Now) I’m fine physically, that allows me to train, and if you can do exactly what you want to, everything makes more sense.
When you’re competing, even against players who are not very highly ranked, you always have to go to the limit.
Everyone goes to the limit, that’s the logical thing: each player tries to do it because, at a certain level, you want to impose those little differences that make you win, and even more so in tennis where little things decide matches. Depending on the surface, the result is decided by three or four shots.
At one Wimbledon press conference, you told off the journalists saying: “Don’t bury Federer yet, you’ve given him up for dead many times and he’s still alive”. Have you got wind of the rumour this season that you’ll never be what you were?
Yes, I got the message, but to be honest it’s not something I feel offended about or would say “I don’t understand it.” I completely understand things. In the end, SNAP SNAP SNAP (he snaps his fingers three times), sport and life go by and the wheel keeps turning, and when you’ve been a while without standing out when you’ve always stood out, it’s logical people should think: “He’s finished”, but it’s not the case. You know what you’re doing, what you need to be there, you continue on your path and you have two choices: either you get better and reinvent yourself and have the enthusiasm to keep progressing or, on the contrary, you let go for everything you’ve achieved, which is a great deal, and you enjoy it and move on to something else. A long time ago, I decided to keep on fighting and to be enthusiastic about competing and about what motivates me. I don’t know if I’ll manage it or not. At the moment, I’m working on it.
In any case, what is certain is that your career in itself has meant adaptation, to playing on grass, to hardcourts… and finally you’ve had to adapt yourself to several different injuries.
I think I’m somebody who accepts things, setbacks, well. I accepted that I wasn’t good enough in certain aspects of my game and had to improve, and, in the end, it’s all about being self-critical and humble. I try not to get carried away by personal criticism when things are going badly, or by the praise heaped on you when they’re going well. Nor is it typically too much or too little. When you receive so much praise you say: “Yes, OK, you won”, but to continue winning, what I’ve achieved is useless to me, rather I have to see what I need to do to win again.
[ With time, Nadal has accepted that his serve is not as good as other aspects of his game: his ability to react, the way he hits the ball, his resilience… “It’s difficult to have everything; those that say my serve is below the level of the rest of my game are right, but I have the motivation to be better. From 2005 (when he won his first Roland Garros) until now, my serve has kept improving and evolving, I didn’t resign myself to what I had.” ]
Is there a point when receiving so many demonstrations of admiration gets too much?
The truth is it has never mattered to me… nor have I ever believed everything they’ve said to me, good or bad. I’ve made my way and it’s always been along a stable path. I’d say it’s been more here (puts his hand below his chin) than here (above his head). I’ve never considered myself someone special. Obviously I’m not so stupid as not to know what I’ve done or what I’ve achieved. I don’t want to give an impression of false humility, as I know how difficult it is to achieve what I have achieved and how I did it. I’ve known all my life that I had to keep on working in order to try to keep on achieving my goals, and that’s what I’ve done.
They did want your coach to retire. Are you his team, are you one body?
No, no no. Everyone in my team is independent, and many times, to tell the truth, we haven’t really functioned as a team. Each one has his own area and each one has done what he wanted. We haven’t done a great job as a team. It’s not that the coach and the physical trainer have worked together. No, each one has done as he wants. We are a team, though, I believe in all of them, and I am the nexus of that team. I don’t think the solution is to change the coach. You may think a new team can bring you new things…
… that the previous one may not have given you.
In the end, it’s finding the point at which you feel comfortable, and I feel that. Looking for another team would be an easy excuse. The problem I’ve had was mine. I have to resolve it.
You are an example, as Federer also is. Has Djokovic also become an example?
To me, more than examples, they are two of the best players in history, and I have the luck, or the bad luck, to have coincided with them. We’re talking about one (Federer) who, in theory, is considered the best player in history, and the other is on his way, already among the best six or seven players of all time and heading for even higher up.
[ Nadal, who will be 30 on June 3rd, the day of the Roland Garros semi-finals, reflected on how the identikit of the professional tennis player had changed and the way the tour had become filled with huge servers. “The game’s played more aggressively than before and with less thought than before, though – he said ironically – with the speed the ball goes now, except on clay, there’s not much time for thinking, either.” The Mallorcan predicts that with time “the tactical and mental sides will gradually be lost” in matches. ]
How far do you think that with your game and your victories you’re a barometer for the mood in Spain?
No, no, I wouldn’t be capable of feeling that important or be arrogant enough to think I’m a barometer for Spain. Everybody here has his joys and his sorrows. I’m not a barometer of anything, if I’ve managed to make somebody happy one afternoon, it gives me great satisfaction, and I know I have the support of the majority of people, I’m the one who wants to thank them for everything they’ve given me. It’s meant a lot to me. When you feel loved, it’s because you’re doing things well, on the behaviour level, not just for your success.
Are you “pleased without being conceited”, as Luis Aragonés (the late former Spanish football manager), used to say?
Finishing the year well helps you to begin the next one. The last few weeks have really boosted my morale. Am I pleased with how things are going? Yes. Am I making do with that? No. I know I must keep on improving even more and work more to achieve that.
As you get older, are there things about the game you see more clearly on the court?
No, when you’re younger everything is much simpler because you have less awareness.
After you, Ferrer, Feliciano and a few more players, what future do you think Spanish tennis has?
The federation has to help it become a sport of reference: the more people play, the more professionals can emerge. The next generation? Obviously we’re going through a bad patch. For a long time now we’ve strung together years in which the next generations have been almost better than the previous ones, and now… There haven’t been players for a series of years now. I don’t know what will happen, but the forecast is not incredible.
Do you have time to coach the youngsters at your club? Will you do so at your future academy?
At the small club we have, I don’t have time, I’m busy doing my own thing, those who know how to give classes must be the ones doing it. I’m really looking forward to the opening of my academy. When it’s built, yes, I’ll lend my support.
Many things have started moving in Spain in a short period of time: new political parties have appeared, more cases of corruption, the (independence) process in Catalonia, the effects of the crisis… What idea do you have of Spain in the short-term and the medium-term?
In the end, there’s one thing that’s clear, we cannot be sending negative messages to the world. We live in a world in which we depend on promotion, and what we sell is the perception others get of us. If what we transmit is political instability, if we sell the crisis all day long, if what comes across is that the country is divided by different ideologies, we are sending many negative messages to the world outside. All these messages contribute to there being a lack of confidence in our country. I’ve never been a supporter of promoting ourselves badly. What there actually is here is quite another thing, but we cannot promote ourselves so very badly. We have banks and companies that are an example, we’re world leaders in tourism. But, we give ourselves a bad image. It angers me.
What about the political changes?
In the end, this is a democracy and everyone has the right to express their opinion, to present themselves for election, to vote, and what the people want is what will be. The country should be run by people that are prepared/qualified for it: the best companies snap up the best managers, and the most important firm we have is Spain. This is what ought to happen. Obviously, corruption is bad in every sense and it also produces mistrust, it must be erradicated and there should be a clean-out.
And the (independence) process in Catalonia?
My maximum respect for the nationalist feeling they may have in some regions. If you ask my opinion, as a Mallorcan I feel totally close to Catalonia and even more so to Spain, it’s difficult for me to get the idea of Catalonia being outside of Spain into my head. I wouldn’t like it. Well anyway, in the end, there are laws that must be kept and also ideas that have to be respected. People have to be free to give their opinion with respect for everyone else and with good manners. We’ll see how it develops. From my point of view, I wish we could continue united, that’s what I’d like.