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Rafael Nadal is still very fond of tennis – 60 minutes

 


Rafael Nadal, the world’s number three tennis player, plays with strength, focus and power – even off-season.

In December 2019, 60 Minutes correspondent Jon Wertheim visited Nadal in his hometown in Mallorca, the Spanish island where he was born and lives. Rather than using the time to rest before the start of a new season, Nadal worked intensively, sharpening his left-handed forehand and double-fisted backhand.

Wertheim watched Nadal play his morning practice with his signature strength, catapulting balls off his racket with an urgency typically reserved for matches. His ruthlessness has served him well on the field. He has won 20 majors – securing the most Grand Slam championships in men’s tennis history along with Roger Federer – with his own record of 13 titles on the red clay courts of Paris.

It has also taken its toll.

“I am very happy that after all the physical problems that I have endured in my career, and there are many, I am delighted to be where I am now that I am 33,” he told Wertheim in 2019. ” what I appreciate and that gives me a lot of personal satisfaction. “

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Rafael Nadal

Nadal has joined tennis princess, despite frequent physical injuries. He has experienced the range and occasionally took longer time off to convalesce. Each time he penetrates and returns to the top of his game.

In a way, struggling with setbacks is also what Nadal likes most about tennis itself.

He told Wertheim that he enjoys the “mental effort” of the game, the search for solutions when in a set, the analysis needed to change the dynamics of a match. When he’s losing, he wants to understand what’s going wrong, to analyze how his opponent is playing better that day.

Coming from behind to win, he said he gives the win even more satisfaction than, say, beating a competitor in straight sets.

“Because you go the extra mile,” he said. “It means you have the chance to compete again the next day. And the next day you will play better. Sometimes when I’m in the first round or second round and I’m not playing well, I say, okay, just accept it. Don’t get frustrated. Just accept and focus. ”

Focus is an important element in Nadal’s game. To block out distractions – from the crowd, from his opponent, from his own head – he has built-in rituals that he performs every match. He told Wertheim that he talks to his coach about an hour before a game starts. Then he thinks to himself as he prepares the handles of his rackets and his bandages for physical therapy. Just before hitting the track, he steps into an ice-cold shower.

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Anthony Behar / SIPA USA / AP


Tennis 2016 - Western and Southern Open - Day 6
Nadal told 60 Minutes the purpose behind his water bottle ritual

Scott Stuart / AP


Then, once on the field, there are the water bottles.

Even a casual tennis fan has probably noticed Nadal’s very specific habit regarding his water bottles. He always places two bottles in front of his chair, one behind the other, so that they face the field diagonally. He flips out their labels. Before the match and during changes, he takes alternate sips from each before putting them back in place with precision.

It may seem like superstition, but Nadal says it’s all part of the way he ignores distractions.

“If I don’t do that with the bottles, then I will sit down, I could think of something else,” he told Wertheim. “If I always do the same things, it means that I am focused and alert to think purely about tennis.”

Wertheim has experienced many of Nadal’s rituals in the 15 years he has been on the tennis tour, for both Sports illustrated and the Tennis Canal. He has also written Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal and the Best Game Ever Played, which chronicled Nadal’s great victory over Federer at Wimbledon in 2008.

When Wertheim first profiled Nadal for Sports illustrated by May 2005, the tennis phenomenon had not yet won a major. But the 60 Minutes contributor saw the potential in Nadal’s passionate playing and writing, “[T]here is all the evidence that Nadal … has begun a long abode at the top of the sport. “

And he has. Nadal made it into the top 10 of the Association of Tennis Professionals that same year and has not left.

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With the French Open starting later this month, he is looking to recruit his 21st major. But his main coach, Carlos Moyá, said they are not focused on Nadal’s potential place in history.

“The topic is always there. But we try to avoid it,” Moyá told Wertheim in 2019. “He puts a lot of pressure on him as Rafa Nadal. And we try to forget the challenge of beating Roger. [Federer] or whoever is the one who has more [Grand] Slams. “

For now, it’s Federer, who may be Nadal’s biggest rival. The two played against each other forty times, with Nadal leading the way in head-to-head matches from 24 to 16. They have a classic rivalry with a timeless clash of playstyles: lefty versus righty; passion and intensity versus precision and quiet restraint.

In most sports, a match like theirs is intense; the rivalry is tribal.

“Nobody says, ‘I love the Yankees, and I’m a Red Sox fan too,’” said Wertheim. “You have to take sides.”

But not, it seems, with Nadal and Federer. That’s partly because theirs is a rivalry without animosity. In fact, they actually love each other.

“[We] also know this is a game, “Nadal said to Wertheim.” And there are many other things in life that are more important than a game than a game. And of course there have been moments with more tension. But like everything else in life, both he and I, we had a very clear view that human relationships are more important than tennis rivalries. ‘

But just as Nadal tries to pass Federer, Novak Djokovic, who has won 18 majors, is getting inches closer. The dominance of these “big three” is hard to overstate: Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have won 58 of the last 70 majors since Wimbledon in 2003.

But in this race with three people to the top, according to Wertheim, history says perhaps the least for Nadal.

“If he retires with most of the majors, that’s great, and if not, I don’t think it will destroy him,” he said.

At the very least, Nadal told Wertheim that he will be ready when he retires.

“I’m not worried about my retirement at the end of my career,” said Nadal. “I just want to be happy and enjoy playing as much as possible. And when I retire, I think happy there are many things in my life that will make me happy.”

To watch Jon Wertheim’s 60 minute interview with Rafael Nadal, click here.

The video above was originally published on January 12, 2020 and produced by Brit McCandless Farmer and Sarah Shafer Prediger. It has been edited by Sarah Shafer Prediger.

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