By lifting the crown at Roland Garros, Rafael Nadal bid farewell to the European clay-court swing in the best way possible. And while he doesn’t often delve into his accomplishments, Nadal is aware of what he’s achieved by winning the clay-court Grand Slam for an 11th time. The only player in the Open Era to achieve three 11 triumphs in three different tournaments – Barcelona, Monte-Carlo and Roland Garros – discussed his achievements and more.
What have you carried with you from your first Roland Garros triumph?
I knew the importance of winning at Roland Garros back in 2005, but there was no way I could have predicted what was going on back then would have an effect on the present. What I can tell you is how my game compares to 13 years ago. My energy levels might be down a little bit, but I have so much more knowledge that I’ve gained over the years. I’m a little bit older and a lot wiser.
What are your thoughts when people say you’re an absolute beast on clay, and that you’re a myth, a legend, a hero after winning for the 11th time?
My answer is that I’m an ordinary guy achieving some extraordinary things. That’s the reality. I don’t let the superlatives get to my head because I don’t have the time for that. I don’t want to sound like I’m something special but yes, it’s unique to win the same Grand Slam 11 times.
Everything I do is a day-to-day process. Yes, I’m confident. I’ve won 86 out of 88 matches I played [in Paris]. Maybe, in around 75 of those matches I stepped onto the court thinking I could win but also lose. That’s one of the keys to success. So, my thoughts on all of this? I’m grateful. At the end of the day, there are people who work just as hard as me, probably even harder.
How do you handle the pressure of showing up to Roland Garros, knowing you are favoured to win?
Just because that’s what the headlines say doesn’t mean it’s what I believe. I stick to my own thoughts, and the thoughts of my team. I go into Roland Garros as prepared as possible and when I step on the court, my goal is to do the best that I can. These days, I also fall back on my experience.
Watch Nadal’s Journey To No. 11 In Paris
Are you surprised that Roger Federer and you have won the last six Grand Slams?
Yes. I went two years without winning a Grand Slam title. He went more than twice that … We are both at an advanced age in this sport and winning the last six majors is definitely amazing.
You say that there is life beyond tennis. Your fellow Big Four (Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray) are married and have children … Do you feel you have a stronger commitment to tennis compared to them?
No. That’s not the case. I just lead a different life. I adapt to things on the fly and while it’s true I’ve committed my life to tennis, it’s also something that makes me happy. I can’t tell you whether I’ll start a family one day. I figured I’d be retired by this age. Before, my way of thinking was like that: to have a structured, average life with a stable family. But as the years went by, my career led me down a different path.
You’ve had intense rivalries against Federer and Djokovic. Most recently, you’ve clashed at big events against Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. Do you consider them your new rivals?
It’s hard to consider them rivals because they are a lot younger and at different stages of their career than I am. It’s a different type of encounter. I didn’t grow up with Zverev or Thiem; we didn’t mold our careers during the same time period. It just so happens we’re crossing paths at different stages.
For that reason, what I have with them isn’t a rivalry. The best rivalries happen organically; we can’t just call them rivalries for the sake of calling them rivalries. I’ve had my rivalries and I still do; they’ve been forged over the years. I battled, suffered and lasted through them.
You’re surrounded by a strong, well-built team of people. Does that bring with it an extra sense of responsibility to perform?
My only sense of responsibility is to do the best I possibly can. I have to train as hard as possible and be as positive as possible. Those are my responsibilities.
I’ve had the same team for a while now, with the exception of (business agent) Carlos (Costa) and that happened more than a year ago. I’m more than satisfied to be around this core team. Having (former coach and uncle) Toni (Nadal) at Roland Garros was special to me. That was a change to the team, too. Having him in Paris was important, first because he’s family but also because he knows me better than anyone. The truth is, without my family, without my team or without my friends, if they had not been there during difficult times, I might have already retired.