Rafael Nadal provides a deep dive into how he managed his debilitating foot injury during Roland Garros, why he changed his racquet on the eve of the tournament, his playing future and more.
The majestic Salon Opera at the Intercontinental Paris Le Grand Hotel is brimming with journalists on Monday morning. Since daybreak, members of the press have been coming and going in the hallways of what was Rafael Nadal’s fortress during this year’s French Open because they have an appointment with the tennis player, who is with Benito Pérez-Barbadillo, his press officer, scurrying from one room to the next; television channel to television channel, radio station to radio station, newspaper to newspaper, before sitting down to chat with ATPTour.com and the Spanish dailies who followed his footsteps at the season’s second Grand Slam.
Less than 24 hours have passed since the Spaniard won his 14 Musketeers’ Cup, beating Casper Ruud in the final, but Rafael Nadal is in no hurry and he talks at length, smiling from ear to ear, without a single glance at his watch.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion, however, is unable to hide the pain in his left foot, having endured two weeks of injections; limping every time he stands up; the Mallorcan eventually takes off his shoe to provide some light relief to his troubled extremity.
Below is his Q&A with the Spanish media, including ATPTour.com/es.
You’ve won 14 times at Roland Garros. Nobody will beat that. It’s impossible.
It may seem like it, but it’s not impossible. Is it very difficult? Yes. I’m realistic about how difficult that is, of the circumstances that have to occur for it to happen. If I’ve done it, I suppose another person could do it. It will be difficult, that is obvious.
How much does this cup mean?
It was a Roland Garros that means a lot on a tennis level because I managed to beat very good players. Mentally too. After everything that happened after Indian Wells, with the broken rib and the limping match in Rome… I knew that I could play the matches, but having the ability to put all this to one side and focus on tennis and play the way I did means that I was mentally prepared.
What has happened since your first title here in 2005 and the last one in 2022?
A lot has happened. I’ve managed, against expectations, mine above all, to have a long career. Of all the things that have happened, I’ve maintained my desire to continue. The people around me have conclusively helped me to be able to continue.
The team you are talking about is big, with the recent addition of Marc López.
I have practically the same team I’ve had all my life. Toni [Nadal] left, but I still talk to him daily. Although he’s not involved in my daily work, I have a personal relationship with him and we talk a lot about tennis. My main requirement is always the same; people close to me. Marc [López] was not on my daily team, but we used to spend a lot of time together and we stayed together at tournaments.
Are you also still winning at Ludo?
It depends on the day. There are days when it is reverse therapy because I have to put up with Marc [López], who has no idea. There’s a great benefit to Ludo; two hours pass by and you don’t realise, and it’s a way to get off our mobiles. It’s positive being with the team playing before matches, or at the airport in downtime. It’s a distraction and a competition we have between us, with an annual ranking. I was first, but I think my father overtook me this week, without playing.
From your first Roland Garros victory to now, how much has tennis changed?
Everything changes in this life. We have to adapt to things. Before, a much more classical tennis was played on clay courts, like that of Casper [Ruud]. Nowadays, there are fewer players doing that, including myself. In general, things evolve. I’ve continued to change things, my racquet for example. At the start of the year I changed the weight and the strings. I was playing with 1.35 kg [racquet weight] and now it’s 1.3. I put more weight in the head to achieve more power.
And there is another unusual thing; I went back to my old racquet two days before starting this Roland Garros. Now I’ll go back to the other one, the new one, but I felt that I didn’t have enough control to play on clay. I have to thank Babolat because they prepared the racquets for me in one afternoon. My feelings of control improved, but you have to adapt to everything that happens.
In the quarters this year, you beat Djokovic. Can you remember another match of that quality?
The 2020 final maybe was better, but this was more emotional because of the result. I was playing very well, but I was unable to keep it up in the second set. It was the first time I’ve played like that in the last four months. It lasted one and a half hours. If the match against Djokovic had been after a normal clay season, and I’d played at that level, it would have been easier to maintain it in the second set when I was 3-0 and two breaks up.
Without that baggage you have more doubt. Intensity is a habit. It’s added value that I was able to be aggressive again in the third, determined. It was a great match and an exciting one because of the atmosphere on court.
You’ve said several times this year that the fans were incredible.
The fans have been exceptional with me for many years. It’s also to be expected because people couldn’t come and watch us. We’ve been through a very difficult period with COVID-19. Being able to enjoy this new court, with packed stands, was a really amazing feeling.