World No. 2 Rafael Nadal came into the interview room on Thursday afternoon after a strenuous practice session with Frenchman Gilles Simon and gave his first press conference in more than a month as he prepared to return to the ATP Tour in Indian Wells, California.
Nadal had announced his intention to take off the entire month of February even before his epic six-hour match with Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open on January 29. Rumors circulated that Nadal was struggling to shake a persistent shoulder problem.
But when asked how he had spent the time off last month, he said simply, “relaxing, resting, and spending time with family and friends.” When pressed about whether he had hit many balls during the break from competition, he said, “I practiced, as always. Nothing really, really special.” There was no hint of rehabbing an injury or a physical problem or a “beat-Djokovic boot-camp” of any kind.
Nadal conceded, without being specific, that he had been working on some things: “It’s important to have time off to work on things you need to improve, but the result isn’t immediately known. You need time. You need time to adapt. You can do a lot of things very well in practice but you need to adapt these things in your game later.”
Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the Olympics
The longer Nadal spoke, the clearer it became that the main reason for his hiatus from competition in February is the calendar for the next six months: “This starts the most important part of the season for me, from here to Wimbledon. And this year is an Olympic year. So I have to be ready for everything.”
He continued, “After a month without competition, always the beginning is tough. Hopefully this month plus off has helped me mentally and physically to get ready for this tough part of the season. I have to think positive, and practice as hard as I can and compete every day as hard as I can.” He recognized that staying in peak form from Roland Garros in mid-June until the Olympics in mid-August is going to be a difficult challenge for all the players. Then barely a month after the London Olympics, the 2012 season’s final major, the U.S. Open, looms.
The Rivalry with Djokovic
At the suggestion that he has been spending his time off searching for a way to beat Djokovic, who defeated him seven times in 2011, Nadal interrupted:”No I never say that. You like to say that. I say always the same; I want to improve I don’t want to improve to beat Novak, to beat Roger, to beat nobody. I try everyday to improve my level of tennis, to be a better player year by year. If that’s enough to beat Novak, fantastic. If not, I’m gonna keep working. When I wake up every morning and go on court I don’t think about Novak, I think about the things I need to keep improving, I think about myself. That’s worked well in my career, all of this time. Maybe now it’s not working any more well, hopefully yes (smiling), but that’s my way. That’s the way my mind works. I don’t have the spirit of revenge. I don’t have the spirit of, you know, obsession with another player”
In response to another question about whether Djokovic was the latest example of the theory that the player at the top makes everybody better, Nadal said:”You never know. History is not the same for everybody. I believe having somebody in front always helps, to have a reference, to see what you need to improve. At the same time I prefer to be in front.”
The 2012 Australian Open Loss
When asked whether it’s taking a long time to digest the loss in Australia, Nadal replied: “I have always said “No, I accept the losses. I accept as well the victories, too. I came home very happy with the way I played in Australia. In the final I wasn’t happy about the 2nd and 3rd set, but in general it was very positive for me. I did a lot of things much better than 2011, even though I never like to compare. I felt more energy, more rhythm in my legs, more power on the shots. I felt that I can hit more winners than before. So that always opens a bit more your mind. If you can hit winners, you can win more free points and less difficult points without running that much. That makes a big difference in my game.”
Was he aware of how people around the world had felt about the final in Australia? He concluded, “No it was great, a very emotional match, very long, very good attitude from both of us (in my opinion), and it was a good quality. Dramatic, physically demanding. I felt I had to win that fifth set, and I failed. Finally he won. That’s it. I was happy to be part of that match. Now I keep working.”
Waiting for the award ceremony in Melbourne to begin, Nadal confessed, “At that moment, I was very scared about cramping. That was a great battle, we were destroyed physically, we were both a little bit scared about cramping before the ceremony. So we asked for the chairs. Tough match for both of us, more for me. A great battle of sport. We went to our limit in almost a every point.”
Time Codes and Umpire Discretion
In his press conference at Indian Wells the day before Nadal’s, Roger Federer had apparently objected again that the umpires are not enforcing the rule about the 25 second interval between points, mentioning Nadal by name. Nadal’s response was, “You know, everything depends. The rules are there, but you cannot really expect players in a six hours match to play rallies of crazy points and rest 20 seconds. Maybe somebody is ready to do it. But if the umpire thinks the player is not doing the right thing, then the warnings are justified. My mentality is that under normal conditions, yes, but you have to understand how the match goes. And that is the work of the umpire”
On Why He’s Playing Doubles at Indian Wells with Marc Lopez
In 2010, Nadal and Marc Lopez won the doubles title at Indian Wells. They are playing again this year: “I think the doubles is good practice for everybody. The problem is that our tour is hard enough. If you don’t have physical problems, for sure, to play doubles helps. My reason for playing here is that I didn’t play for a month, you have days off, and if you lose you have no chance to keep playing in competition, and I’m playing with one of my best friends.”
Waxing Philosophical About Life on Top of the Game
In response to a final question about Djokovic’s accomplishments, Nadal said he has brought “tennis to another step. But he continued, “Nobody is forever. You have one player for a while, then comes another. The same’s gonna happen to Djokovic, two years, five years. Somebody’s gonna be better than him. That’s history, that’s natural. That’s the beautiful thing of the sport and the game. I don’t know if I’m gonna be the one that I’m gonna improve on Djokovic. I’m gonna keep working hard everyday to keep having chances to compete against everyone with good chances of success. But the periods of victories for everybody have an end, and that’s really a part of life.”