Rafa Nadal: “A year ago I never thought I'd be number one again”
The world number one and 16-times Grand Slam winner has been elected as AS' Best Spanish Sportsman of all time.
How do you value the AS 50th Anniversary Award, which could be said to represent the best Spanish sportsman in history?
I only have words of thanks for this award, truthfully. It has been an extraordinary year and this award is particularly special because the monarchs will be attending the ceremony, where there will also be many Spanish athletes who deserve the award as well.
If you had been involved in the selection process, who would you have chosen?
I don’t know, there are so many people who have done amazing things in their sports and some for the first time. That has extra value. Severiano Ballesteros marked an era in golf, Miguel Indurain in cycling, Pau Gasol has two NBA rings, Fernando Alonso and his world titles, we’re doing very well in motorcycling…
What does it mean to be Rafa Nadal?
I haven’t changed at all. I still live in the same place [Manacor]. I live a normal life like any young person when I’m at home. When I travel I change a little bit. But when I go home I find the peace that I need.
How did you forge this character of yours, which is so disciplined and insatiable?
Well, I’m not insatiable… I love sport in general, not just tennis. The people that have always been by my side have helped me. And I have had sufficient intelligence to know when to ask for advice. There are people that when they reach the top they only want to hear nice things. In my case, the people I have around me know they can say what they think.
You’re considered an active legend tennis, one of the best of all time. How do you deal with that?
With complete normality. I appreciate all the affection people show me and all the praise is welcome, as well as criticism, as long it’s respectful. I know my career has been a bit special, but at 31 years old I’m not going to build myself up. I’m aware that I’m a passenger in everything that is happening at the moment. In a few years I’ll be another person in the street and it’s better not to get too full of yourself because the fall later can be a big one. I’ve always managed to keep a level head.
If you hadn’t become a tennis player, what would you have liked to have been?
I’ve never really thought about it to be honest because I was pretty much a professional before I was old enough to give it any consideration. I’m a big fan of sport in general so I’m sure I would have been involved in sport somehow. I would have liked to have the university experience, which everybody says is fantastic. But I have had a natural apprenticeship in life, day-by-day, which has allowed me to travel the world and meet people from different cultures.
How does one achieve success?
You need a few basic, innate qualities, nobody can deny that, but hard work and pushing yourself is also a reality. You need to have people around you who help you and keep you motivated. That’s fundamental. I’ve always been surrounded by very positive people, from a young age. My uncle, Toni, has been helping me from the age of three when I first picked up a racket.
"I don't know if I'll ever see anybody overtake me at Roland Garros"
Speaking of Toni, this was his final year by your side. What has he signified to you?
I can never thank my uncle enough for what he has done for me. It’s not just one lesson, but many every day since I was three years old. Without him I might never have played. He’s been pushing me since I was a kid to be the best I can and I’ll always be grateful to him.
Among all your career achievements your 10 Roland Garros titles stand out. What was the key?
Happiness, everything else you have to keep winning. Somebody else can do what I’ve done, but it’s true that there have to many circumstances in place for it to happen. It does make me happy to have something like this and it’s there in history. I don’t know if I’ll ever see anybody overtake me there.
Did you expect a season as good as this one?
I don’t expect anything, I do my thing and what happens, happens. I try to do the best I can and from there, if I’m healthy, I see myself in a position to compete well and try to achieve the things that excite me. Confidence and belief are always better with a positive dynamic. I didn’t expect to play badly.
You ended a good year as world number one…
It’s been a great season for me, a very emotional one after everything I went through in the two previous season with injuries. Being number one again is something I never thought would happen a year ago. I won two Grand Slams and a few other titles and I’ve been happy. It was a dream season really, I would have paid a lot of money to have a season like that.
"In life you have to be happy with what you do. I don't need to catch Federer"
What are your dreams now?
Sometimes I have nightmares [laughs]. I have nothing to ask for. I’m grateful and all I can ask is that I stay healthy. I’m hugely fortunate to have lived everything I have at my age. I’ll carry on working so I can carry on doing what I love.
Are you motivated by the thought of overtaking Roger Federer’s record 19 Grand Slams?
I make my own way and my own career is what motivates me. In life you have to be happy with what you do, and while that doesn’t mean I don’t want more, I don’t need to catch Federer. I’ll keep on fighting for what I can achieve.
Have you given any thought to how long you’ll keep playing?
I don’t think about it because I’m not that methodical. If I’m still enjoying it, I’ll keep playing it. The day I wake up and that’s not the case, I’ll stop and do something else. At the moment I wake up with the enthusiasm to keep doing what I’ve always done.