Rafael Nadal: “Very proud of my longevity.” Interviewed by Vincent Cognet of l’Équipe, who asks questions from all directions.

Translated from the print edition of l’Équipe, May 27, 2018, pages 30-31

Relaxed during his Roman week, the Spaniard plays the question game, which come from all angles, some anecdotal, some serious, about him, his life as a champion and his attitude towards tennis.

Rome ten days ago. Rafael Nadal leaves victorious his match against Fabio Fognini. After the presser and food, he plays a game of Parchis (a Spanish board game), then decides to do the interview in the garden annexed to the players’ room. In a comfortable mood, Nadal will nevertheless answer with priceless seriousness.

From the beginning, what made you happiest about tennis?

The competition. In tennis, it’s very intense because it’s every day. and it’s face-to-face. I always loved competition whether it’s sports or games.

So it’s nothing to do with the racquet or the balls?

[Smiles] Seriously, I don’t remember that well.

Many players mention the importance of feeling with a racquet in hand. How do you experience it?

I’m like any other player. I found a simple solution: you need to be positive and play with the right attitude, even when the feeling isn’t there. What’s important is to forget the frustration and accept the situation.

As a kid, did you play pretending to be someone else?

[Firmly] No. I loved training, I loved spending hours and hours at the club. When I was a kid, I could spend entire days at the club playing tennis or something else.

<Did you learn watching others?

Of course. In life, it’s easier to copy than invent. I observe others and try and understand what they do well. It’s not possible to give a specific example because it’s not about copying someone. It’s more seizing the idea the player has in his head and adapting it to your own style. It’s more about positioning, ways of moving and placement in relation to the ball. I’ve watched hundreds or thousands of videos of other players on You Tube to try and seize ideas.

<Even the black and white ones of old players?

Yes, but not for that. If I want to see something specific, I choose present day players.

Who were your idols when you were a kid?

[Thinks] Tough to say. I grew up with Sampras and Agassi. Later, I was close to Carlos Moya [his coach].

Were you for Sampras or for Agassi?

Neither of them. I liked the rivalry.

Does the history of the game interest you?

Of course. It’s very important. It’s the old players who created the values of this game.

Can you watch a match just as a spectator?

Yes. But we know each other so well as players that we understand very quickly what’s happening on the court. Even if we’re not doing a real analysis, it’s impossible to watch a match as an ordinary spectator.

Do you glance at others’ practices?

[Amused] No. Never.

Because you find it boring …

No. When I’ve finished my time I need to do my recovery, my treatments etc. I’m not saying I don’t glance at the court next to me, but never more than five minutes.

Do you watch tennis sometimes late into the night?

Normally, no. Unless there’s a very special reason. Sometimes I’ll watch golf and that can finish sometimes past midnight.

It’s never bothered you the next day?

No! I can sleep five or six hours if I have nothing special on the next day. It’s not the same as going out and drinking a few. If you only sleep five hours after that, it’s not enough. But if I’m watching the TV, relaxing on my sofa, no problem. If I’m there, it’s because I appreciate what I’m doing. So it’s OK.

Do you agree with the commentators when you watch tennis on TV?

[Exhales] Not always. I know it’s a difficult job. I know they have to commentate quite a few matches during a day. It doesn’t shock me if they wander a bit during the match. Honestly, there are some matches that aren’t fascinating. [Amused] But it’s true I don’t always agree with what’s said about the match! What annoys me the most is when spectators show a lack of respect for the players. But that’s it.

Do you understand the existing debate about tennis’ format and the needs of TV?

It’s very complicated. The ideal solution will never exist. But I think it’s important to respect the history of this sport. And to know it very well. It’s tradition that helps our sport to become even bigger. Besides that, I realise that there must be innovation. What could be done is try the innovations at small tournaments. But don’t touch the big tournaments. There can’t be changes that are too drastic. Move forward in small steps. We can’t get rid of five set matches at Slams. They’re what create the dramas and the most exciting matches. Even if they’re not perfect for the TV, they’re terrific for the spectators. All the emotions, all the passion, come from those matches. If we touch them, tennis will lose a lot. The most important matches in tennis history have been played in five sets.

Are you interested in statistics or records?

Yes, but not crazily. Sure, I know that our generation have broken a lot of records, and that makes me happy.

Are you a stats nut?

Not really. I like checking some things, but … Carlos [Moya], on the other hand, loves them and it’s interesting talking with him after my matches. They can help some things, like court positioning etc. But I’m not going to lose my day reading numbers.

Do you know any stats about you that are less well known to the general public?

Absolutely not. When I beat a record, it’s often you, the journalists, who tell me. The best example is my fifty straight sets won on clay. I only found out about it during it.

Beating records helps motivation?

[Hesitates] It depends. But my real motivation is going out on court every day and playing in the biggest stadiums in the world in front of thousands of spectators. Playing in a stadium filled to bursting with passionate spectators, that’s really a very special feeling.

When we think deeply about it, twelve years between your first major and the last, isn’t that a bigger thing than the sixteen titles?

I’m very proud of my longevity. [A bit mockingly]. Especially because they didn’t stop telling me during my career that I wouldn’t last long as a player because of my playing style. I ended up believing it! I’m very happy to still be competitive at 32. Because it says a lot. It means showing that you can keep the same mentality and the same passion for a very long time.

Would you have been able to share your life with a woman who knew nothing about tennis?

My partner loves tennis. She loved it before we met. But I could very well have lived with a woman who knew nothing about tennis [laughs]. I haven’t tried, but there wouldn’t be a problem. My partner and I talk very little about tennis.

Do you sometimes talk tennis with people who know nothing about it?

[Amused] I can. If they don’t pretend to know, no problem. If the opposite’s the case, I let them talk!

What would you change in the way the tour operates?

I favour a two year ranking and not fifty-two weeks. It’s the best way to protect players in case of injury. I’ve thought that for years, but it’s even more important at the end of a career.

And in the rules of tennis?*

I don’t know how, but attention needs to be paid to the serve and to power in general. The players are bigger and bigger and it’s getting faster and faster. If we don’t find a solution to the serve, then tennis will reach a point where it’s summed up by that shot. In ten years, tennis could be in danger.

Are you for or against cutting out one of the serves?

Why not? We can’t say it’s stupid. We can only try it out. I’m in favour of innovations. Why not try it at small tournaments? I don’t know … But we could at least consider it.

Do you sometimes play tennis on the Play Station?

Never. Even when I was a kid. I play football on the Play Station. Tennis, I play that all day.

In your opinion, what players have contributed the most to the game?

I can’t answer that question. To answer it, I’d have to have lived in the different eras. It’s an interesting question, but you’d have to ask someone who knows the 1960’s or 1970’s. I know who Rod Laver, Björn Borg or John McEnroe are. But I can’t judge their importance because I wasn’t there.

When you watch old videos on You Tube, who is your favourite player?

Tough to say. I like Ilie Nastase. But I like the tennis of that era because power is less important. There’s more magic. Talent counts for more, tactics too. There was more point construction. That’s what I miss in the tennis of today. Clay is the last surface where you can still construct points. You can still try things. On hard, it’s become almost impossible. It’s too fast.

*Added 21:15

Translated by MAN

 

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Roger Federer reflects in an interview in l’Équipe with @romlef on his 2017 season, the amazing Nadal and his amazing AO win

Translation of the interview by Romain Lefebvre in l’Équipe December 29, 2017, print edition pages 4-6

L’Équipe has awarded you with the title Champion of Champions in a tie with Rafael Nadal. Does that seem fair to you?

– Yes. Some will say no, some will say yes. I think you can look at our seasons however way you want. Both have done something extraordinary. He finished the year at number 1. He’s even the oldest player ever to have done that, which I didn’t know. It’s something no one has done before, so, from that angle, he deserves it. He made a comeback just like me. Me, I’m five years older, which makes things even more complicated. And I beat him every time. You can mix that all up whichever way you want, but I’m totally OK with it.


Do you have the feeling that breaking back at 3-2 in the fifth set of your Australian Open win against Rafa was a determining factor for the rest of your season?

– It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s true. It was that moment that I proved definitely that I’m playing fabulously. I’m playing really, really well. You feel that all the backhands are aggressive, I’m calm, serene. It’s a big moment for the rest of the season, yes … Basically, you’re right!


When we saw you at the inauguration of his academy, in October 2016 – you were both injured – you’ve almost never been apart since …

– Exactly. It’s interesting because it had never been that way before then. We understand each other. In the past, when he’s been injured or operated on, honestly, because I’d never been operated on, it was difficult for me to put myself in his skin. In 2016, when he was doing better, and it was my turn to be injured, for the first time I felt the way he did when he was injured. It got me even closer to Rafa, this understanding of what he went through in the past. On the one hand, it’s nice being at home, of being detached from everything, but, at the same time, it’s an injury. It’s not fun. It’s an operation; it reveals a weakness. I know there are a lot worse things in life with health problems. But for an athlete, an injury is difficult – it may mean the end. We both went through it at the same time, at the same moment. I think I understand Rafa more know than before. Before, for me, it was, ‘yeah, right, OK. I see what he wants to say, but not really … it’s clearer today.


If someone told you in 2010, when Nadal was number 1 in the world, that seven years later he wouldn’t beat you once in four meetings during a season …

– I would have said no way! At that time I had two kids, and I had even more desire. Now I have four. With four kids, I’m not going to beat Rafa four times! [laughs]. It’s neither reasonable nor realistic. But fine, the idea was to play for a long time. The question was: would we still be meeting each other? What will our rankings be? When you’re, I don’t know, fifteenth and twenty-third, I imagine we won’t be meeting each other four times during the year. To meet that often, you have to play at the highest level.


Can you give three reasons why you won every time in 2017?

– There’s the Basel win first of all in 2015 [in the final 6-3, 5-7, 6-3] at home, which really did me good. It comforted me in the idea that if I play well indoors, or on a fast surface, it would always be tough for him. After, I think that our long break acted as a reset for our rivalry. In our head-to-heads, our 2004 matches have no relation to today. We’re now two guys who’ve had operations, among the oldest. It’s another era. I approach the matches telling myself, ‘OK, we’ll see what happens.’ My new racquet has given me more options than in the past. Before, my game was more based on a sliced backhand and my forehand. Now, I can do more things with my backhand, and I proved that to myself in Australia against him. That was it. And, tactically, I was clearer in my head about how to play him as opposed to before. The racquet, the surface, the momentum [the dynamic] of finally ending the wins against me, it’s all a package. Plus the fact that I possibly could have won some matches against him I ended up losing. I’m think of Dubai, here, once in the final [in 2006, loss 2-6, 6-4, 6-4], which I shouldn’t have lost, Rome, which I lose in five sets [6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6] in the same year which I possibly should have won, at Roland where I for once had a chance [2011, loss 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1] … All those matches created a sort of spiral which favoured him.


If you’d met him on clay this year, would you have maintained your invincibility?

– It might have been interesting, with the year I had and my style of play, if I could have done well, even won, but no … for me, Rafa will always be the favourite against anyone on clay. So, Advantage Rafa! I say. [laughs]


You played doubles with him for the first time at the Laver Cup. What did playing beside him do?

– It was magnificent. Honestly. Because doubles are even better than practice. In doubles, you have ten seconds to make a choice, and you talk to each other. OK, what will you take? Forehand and I cover that after? No? Go, we’ll change quickly! OK, agreed? Bang bang, boom, bing. And you do that fifty times during a match! Watching his intensity, his calmness, it made me think about myself. We’re similar, we’re always trying to find solutions. He’s a winner. He knows when it’s important, when it doesn’t matter if you miss a shot when you’ve made the right choice. If the idea was right, you accept it. You know when the opponent played well. All that fascinated me. It was really good.


What does he have that you’d like to have?

– I’ve always loved his forehand and his intensity, his ability to concentrate.


You’d like him to have been Swiss?

– Uhmmm … why not? Absolutely. I won’t say no! But with Stan [Wawrinka] we’re doing pretty well, eh! I can’t complain, Stan’s incredible.


Which one of you is a better doubles player?

– Oh … interesting. We play completely differently. In Prague, I asked him, ‘How do you want me to play? More like me or more like you?’ Because I don’t know very well the doubles where you stay at the baseline after serving like he does. I was at the net and the balls we’re whistling by me [he mimes balls whistling by] voom, voom, especially against Jack Sock, who plays like Rafa. Me, I know doubles where both players are at the net, where you try and make a wall and you concentrate on the first volley. But that’s not the way we played. It was ultra interesting. It was modern doubles if you like. He plays that better, and I think I play classic doubles better. I know that’s not the answer you wanted, but sharing that thought is interesting. Let’s say it’s a draw!


Can we imagine you playing doubles at a Slam?

– No. I don’t think that’s possible. We need our rest. We’re both tired after the singles. [laughs].


What’s your best win over Rafa?

– Australia this year. [2017] Yes.


The cruellest loss?

– Wimbledon 2008 or Rome 2006, where I have two match points, playing five hours on clay. It would have been nice beating him in that final, in that magnificent Rome stadium. But Wimbledon, there were so many records on the line: a sixth win for me, the first for him, in the dark like that at the end [night fell at the moment of match point, at 9.16 PM]. It was extraordinary …


Let’s get back to this year. Did you play your best tennis in the States at Indian Wells and Miami?

– I played well, but I had trouble in a couple of consecutive matches in Miami. Against Bautista, against Berdych, Kyrgios. Finally, I had a lot of luck against Berdych. Everyone’s forgotten, but I had match point against me on his serve. On his second, he hits 190 to my forehand. It’s times like those that can change the course of a season. Against Kyrgios, too. It was very, very hot. I played well that day, but in Miami, during the day, I suffered a lot because of the wind. You don’t play your best under those conditions. Or the feeling isn’t always the best. It’s not like Australia, where there’s never a breath of wind. After six matches on Rod Laver, you know every inch of the surface. You can’t play any better in the fifth set. While in Miami, during the day, you have the sun in your eyes from an angle, it’s windy, and you can’t go for the lines! It’s still an excellent tournament, and I really surprised myself in the final against Rafa. Because I told myself, ‘OK, I beat him in Australia and in Indian Wells,’ but, honestly, I was tired. At the warm-up with Seve [Lüthi, one of his coaches], I told him: “Listen, I’m going to try my best.” And he answered: ‘If we’d told you at the beginning of the season you’d make a final in Miami, you would have taken it, even without Australia or Indian Wells. Just this final!’ It gave me a good feeling, good energy, and I ended up having a very good match. My head was clear one more time, after the break back at the Australian Open, I guess. I saw that certain things were working and I kept it up. It was pretty great, right.


During all that, you make the decision of not playing on clay …

– Yes. Late on, actually. Because I was on clay. I told myself: I’ll see how I feel, where I’m at. Honestly, it was a coin-flip situation. I remember exactly where we were and how we decided. My entourage told me: ‘If you do it, Roger, think it over carefully. Because it will be a month where you’ll work like crazy. It won’t be easy, and what will it get you? Because if you don’t win Roland … And my physio was worried about my knee that had bugged me the year before. My conditioning coach, Pierre [Paganini] told me: ‘Listen, there’s so much work to do before playing on clay, and, in the end, what’s the goal? Just playing? It’s your decision.’ The coaches told me: if the priority is Wimbledon, you have to really think about it. Twenty-four hours later, I told myself: bah, you know what? OK, it’s tough, but it’s wise. It was the first time in my life I said no to a Slam while feeling healthy. Because the year before I pulled out of Roland with a bad back and knee, and I couldn’t play the US Open because of the knee. There was a solid reason each time. But this was a first and it was weird, yeah …


In hindsight, wasn’t it the best decision you made this year?

– No, no. It doesn’t give me any pleasure withdrawing from a tournament. I’m still a competitor. In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad decision, but it wasn’t a good one either, if it had turned out I could play on clay anyway, and still play on grass after, like I’ve done my whole career, in fact. Even in hindsight, I see what you mean, but I won’t accept it. It was an important and difficult decision to make because I was healthy.


And then there was Wimbledon glory. What do you remember?

– Oh it was quick. All of a sudden [snaps his fingers], I won my eighth … especially looking at Australia, where I didn’t know. Everything was fragile on my side. I had five-setters, Nishikori, Stan, Rafa, I fought a problem with my adductors for five matches … While at Wimbledon, I arrive, three sets, then three sets, and all of a sudden, I’m in the quarters, the semis, the final and it’s over. It’s a great satisfaction because I’d played so well and worked so hard since the previous year when I lost to Raonic. The idea was, if I made it back this year, that’s where I wanted to be at the top of my game. And finding yourself at Wimbledon in that situation, you, your team, your fans, Switzerland, it’s a very nice moment in the career of a player. Especially when you achieved what was your main goal the previous year. With my knee problem, I’d told myself that everything that came before Wimbledon was less important. I constructed the situation well.


What gives Roger Federer the most satisfaction: the complicated fight at the Australian Open …

– [interrupts] That. Regardless, that.


… or the train that arrives on time at Wimbledon for a final without a lot of emotion against an injured Cilic?

– I didn’t realise that at the time, luckily. I still had the satisfaction of winning against him as if he weren’t injured. It’s only after the final that I heard how much he was hurt. Because I didn’t see him cry during the match. And I imagine it was better for me not seeing that. Regarding my 2017 season, it’s Australia above all for sure. With that incredible match, with everything that happened up to it, the comeback. The emotions were huge. While with Wimbledon, I looked at the record I’d achieved, my eighth. That’s it.


Can you guarantee your numerous French fans that you’ll play agin one day in Paris?

– No, I can’t. Because Bercy is always after Basel and Roland Garros on clay, I don’t know what will happen next year. I’d like to say yes, absolutely, I’ll come back and one day in Paris, and I think that will happen next year. It may be twice, it may be never. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. The longer I stay on the tour, the bigger the chance I’ll return to Paris. Obviously, it’s tough for me to imagine never playing Roland or Bercy again, but the future is unknown.

 

Translated by MAN

Toni Nadal, interviewed in l’Équipe by @djub22, on why he’s worried about the direction modern tennis is taking

From this article online at l’Équipe Julien Reboullet.

Does today’s tennis, the game you see while travelling around the world with your nephew, please you?

–- In general, not very much. I like games of strategy, of skill, not a game for the game’s sake. I like when there’s thought. Thinking a bit, that counts, no?

You think there’s too much hitting?

– In contemporary tennis, we had a long period with a Roger Federer as the best in the world, of course. A fantastic technician. But there’s recently been an evolution towards a very quick game without strategy, where it’s boom boom boom on every point. Today, clay specialists are considered labourers who push the ball back. Then, on the other hand, we have those who just hit shots. But a game that just consists of hitting, that’s baseball!

Isn’t that just an evolution that suits the times?

– I’ve read some books about the civilisation of spectacle. The role of sports in our epoch can’t be compared with its role in Antiquity. Those who attended the Academy (the school of philosophy found by Plato in Athens in the 4th century AD . Ed) understood sports in a very clear manner: physical activity complemented intellectual activity. It developed certain positive aspects of character like effort, discipline, strategy. All that differentiates us from animals, no? Today our sport is moving away from all that.

But why?

– My view is that perhaps the bosses don’t decide who’ll win or be number one, but at least the type of game that will dominate. The rules imposed give direction to the game.

Tennis may have a rule problem?

– The rules of many sports have changed because the size of the athletes has changed, or their power, or their equipment. But I haven’t seen change in tennis. Since the introduction of the tie-break in the 1970’s, I haven’t seen any. The physiques of the players now is nothing like it was twenty years ago. Neither is their equipment. The training intensity is nothing like it was, neither is the professionalism. But the bosses have kept the same difficulties in the game. Which leads to this inconsistency: in what other sport does a point start with a penalty? Because that’s the case in tennis with the serve. The returner looks like a goalkeeper during a series of penalty shots.

But if your nephew Rafael was two metres tall and served at 250 kph, perhaps that would suit you, no?

– Careful! If you think that you’re confusing everything. You’re being personal. What I’m telling you isn’t about Rafael. Whether he’s still playing or isn’t has nothing to do with my way of looking at things. I’m speaking as a spectator who’s thinking about the game in general. Besides, as Rafael’s coach, I don’t want anything to change. He’s won fourteen Slams and has had an extraordinary career with the rules I’m criticising and the evolution I’m regretting. I’m not an idiot! I’m someone who has preferences and isn’t alone.

Which means?

— I’ll put a question to you: which points get the most applause?

The most spectacular ones …

— And? …

In general, the longer rallies …

– Exactly. Do you know which player got the most applause in IPTL matches during its Asian swing last December? Fabrice Santoro! Because he can do everything, a stop volley followed by a lob … everything … Which players do we choose to like: those who can create like him, or a player who just hits everything that moves super hard?

You think that other sports have been better to adapt?

– Obviously. Look how football (soccer) has evolved! At the World Cup in Italy in 1990, what happened? A tonne of matches with very few goals. 1-0 or 1-1 if we were lucky. It was obvious that it was necessary to produce something more entertaining for the spectators. So in the wake of that World Cup, two things were changed: the pass back to the goalkeeper was forbidden and three points for a win – instead of two – were awarded. That changed the quality of the spectacle completely. And who’s the best in football today? The strongest physically? No, the most skilled. Messi, Neymar and others …

You would never go and watch Raonic-Kyrgios, if we follow you properly …

– I’ll go because they’re a part of the present game. But if I weren’t involved in tennis at a high level like I’ve been for more than ten years, it’s certain that I’d would watch a skill player rather than a player who hits. Because I like strategy. In football, a Cristiano? He’s phenomenal, no doubt about that. But I prefer a Messi, or a Xaví, who undoubtedly play with more thought. That’s the way I feel in any case.

After Rafael’s losses to Rosol or Kyrgios at Wimbledon, you let it be understood that their game wasn’t tennis …

– No no no, I never said that. It’s tennis because it’s according to the rules of tennis. I’m saying it’s not a tennis that pleases me, but I didn’t say I was right. I said tennis is getting faster, that hitting winners is getting easier. Like Kyrgios is a super player who could end up number one. Take Zverev, for example. He’s a formidable player with very good control. He’s plays quick and serve hard. Happily, there are still players that control like Djokovic. But I think evolving, adapting is essential in present society. Everything goes so quickly in life. Paying to watch a match without rallies? To me, that’s a poor programme. But I don’t claim to have the absolute truth, heh!

Let’s go back to changes. Toni, what should be changed in tennis?

– There are plenty of things we can change, but we have to choose. To me, we need a change in equipment above all. Before, the racquets had very small heads, which required a much greater mastery of technique. But you need to look at the debate from a larger point of view: what counts is not what I would change, it’s more encompassing. It’s what type of player do we want to watch, what sort of spectacle do we want to offer? And by answering that fundamental question, we can evolve the rules. We criticise the time taken between points, but it’s relative. If that time taken leads to longer rallies rather then 3-4 shot rallies, like the large majority of those we saw at the last Australian Open, who wins by it?

If there were only one serve, for example? …

– I don’t think that would be too radical. We need a more general consideration of the importance of the serve. But, again, I’d prioritise more though about the materials – smaller racquet heads, larger balls or at least less quick, and some other things. The conditions of the game lead to great difficulty in controlling the ball, and I’m including the amateur level there. When you’re playing a sport, why are you doing it? To sweat, to have a good time. In tennis today, you hardly even sweat. And you seldom have a good time. Because the ball goes out too much.

Why not be a part of committees about the future of the game?

(Makes a face) The present leaders have a problem, they’re generally old. Very conservative about changes.

You’re starting your tennis academy in Manacor. What will its philosophy be?

– Apply what the current game tells me, quite simply. If it tells me that you absolutely need to hit hard, than they’ll learn to hit hard.

It’s the world tennis bosses that tell you, in some way, how you form your players?

– Obviously, yes. I see a lot of young players at the academy. Oh my! That hit at 2000 at everything, even without any control. They hit, hit, hit. I’ll adapt to what my sport demands. I’d rather insist on the technique, determination, on how, with your spirit you can overcome technical problems, for example. But if it’s another sort of tennis that works, let’s teach that. After, you risk that people applaud less and less. It’s working right now, because people come to see the personalities and there are phenomenal ones. But never forget they also come to watch a match.

Translated by MAN

Yevgeny Kafelnikov talks Russian tennis, compares ATP eras, & more

From an interview with Kafelnikov, a multiple-Slam champion, conducted by B92’s Saša Ozmo before the men’s semifinals at Roland Garros.

On Russian tennis, more successful of late on the WTA side:
“It’s much easier to produce top female players than top male players for many reasons.  Young guys don’t have that spark and don’t believe they can reach the top—but I hope that we’ll see a change with Andrey Rublev.  He was the best junior last year, is still only 17 years old, and is getting better all the time.  He’s growing and becoming more mature—hopefully, he’ll be the one we’ve long sought.  He has a champion’s attitude, which is very important, plays aggressively, is good from the baseline, and has nice technique.  I told him and his team that he needs to work on his physical strength, because he plays a great set but then runs out of energy.  He’ll be a very good player if he gets stronger.”

On the possibility of coaching:
“If I see potential and the project appeals, then I might agree.  Coaching is a lot of work, which is clear from former colleagues like Becker, Ivanišević… I see them often, but don’t ask about the details—I don’t think that’s relevant.  However, I observe how they’re handling it and it seems to me they’re happy and doing a good job.  The players they’re training listen to them and respect them; if I find something like that, maybe I’ll become a coach, too.”

On the ATP, then & now:
“I have no regrets at all about retiring early [in 2003, a few months before turning 30].  Honestly, I can’t explain how players are still capable of playing in their later years—Federer is soon 34 and still playing at a high level.  I think the reason for this is that today’s average level of play is much lower than in our time.  Actually, I talked to Boris about it only a few days ago, and he agreed.  So, the best can keep enjoying it and winning Grand Slam titles, since no one else can come close.  In our time, there were 15-20 guys who could potentially win a Grand Slam trophy, but it’s not so right now.”

“The whole approach is different.  In our era, there were many more styles of play than exist now: there were serve-volley players, a lot of ‘chip & charge.’  Now, for the most part, everyone plays from the baseline and tries to strike the ball as hard as he can.  This isn’t the direction tennis should go—I think we need different modes of play.  But nothing’s likely to change if we don’t do something about the courts.  It seems to me that every tournament is played on the same [speed] surface—even Wimbledon is now similar to concrete.  If that doesn’t change, the situation will remain as it is.”

On Nadal’s future:
After the Spaniard’s victory over Djoković in the 2014 Roland Garros final, Kafelnikov made a bold forecast: that it was the last trophy for Nadal in Paris.  He maintains that position.  “So far, my prognosis is accurate.  I love Rafa—he’s a great guy, an excellent tennis player, and has achieved much success.  However, last year I felt (for the first time) that he’s becoming physically weaker.  In previous years, he played much closer to the baseline, and now it’s different, especially in the match with Novak—Djoković was inside the court and dictating the pace while Rafa stood four meters back.  The trend continues: Rafa is already 29 and can’t beat opponents by outrunning them, particularly in best-of-five matches.  Along with that, it doesn’t feel like there’s the same intimidation factor in the air—players aren’t afraid of Rafa any more.  So, I stand by my prediction.  While I’d like it to happen, I’d be shocked if Rafa wins another Grand Slam trophy.”

On his career & retirement:
“It feels good when I look back on it.  I was lucky that I caught different eras, playing with Becker and Edberg, then with Agassi and Sampras, and even Federer after that.  In fact, I competed with three generations of top players, so I’m very satisfied with my career and what I achieved.”

Having dabbled in professional poker in the first years after leaving tennis, Kafelnikov has since found another pastime.  “Poker is my past, but I try to play golf as much as possible, to see how good I can become.  It’s my daily life—I play golf every day for four to six hours.”

 

~ Translated from Serbian by Ana Mitrić.

The Case of Lucas Pouille

From the print edition of l’Équipe April 15 2015 by Julien Reboullet @djub22 page 19.

Out of action in March, mediocre practice Monday, winner over Dominic Thiem Tuesday: the twenty-one-year-old Frenchman is on the right road. He challenges Rafael Nadal today.

If ever Lucas Pouille were to provoke a Big Bang event in Monaco by becoming the first Frenchman since Olivier Mutis in 2004 to defeat Rafael Nadal on clay, it would be a completely crazy exploit out of the deep, deep blue. A story of reversing a tendency at the speed of light.

As recently as Monday, the young twenty-one-year-old, just arrived from the indoor Saint Brieuc Challenger tournament – where he lost in the semis to Nicolas Mahut – and who hadn’t played a match on clay in eight months, wasn’t attracting much attention in the stands of the Monte Carlo Country Club after a poor practice session. “It’s simple. He played 1-1 against the number 300 or so ranked Frenchmen,” smiled Emmanuel Planque, his coach, yesterday noon. Smiling because his player had just left the court a winner over Dominic Thiem [6-4, 6-4]. Yes, Thiem, the Austrien who had just played a quarter-final in Miami and is ranked 44 in the world.

That kind of reversal in the space of twenty-four hours deserved the kisses exchanged between player and coach just before they got back to the dressing room. One would almost swear the two pairs of eyes shone just a bit. “I felt the emotion in Lucas,” admitted Planque.

“Interning” with Federer

The success will almost propel his student into the top 100 Monday [he’s now 108, his best ever ranking] A big first for the Northerner. “That barrier preoccupied him, as much because it gives him direct entry into the Slams as  for its symbolism. We brand our players to much in France by telling them, ‘you’ll be a pro when you’re in the top 100.’ Being a pro is more than ranking. It’s an attitude, a relationship to your profession.” Pouille has never been caught out on that score. The baby-faced, blue-eyed boy speaks in a quiet voice in front of the microphones. He’s serious, poised, thoughtful. He knows where he wants to go. And getting from a three-digit ranking to a two-digit is far from being an end in itself. Getting to one digit would closer.

2012(January) – Reaches his best junior ranking of 23
2013(May) – Wins his first round match against the American Alex Kuznetzov, loses in the second round to Grigor Dimitrov
2014(October) – Defeats Nieminen, Karlovic and Fognini to reach the round of 16 at Bercy, where he loses to Federer
2015(January) – First ATP 250 semi-final (Auckland) then an excellent first round at the Australian Open, losing to Monfils 7-6,6-3,4-6,1-6,4-6

The Planque-Pouille duo’s path has almost been like laying bricks. Step by step with precision and caution [see box]. Example: at the end of February, there was an inflamed tendon in the player’s right shoulder. “We treated it with the utmost care and seriousness. Pouille didn’t even wiggle an ear in March. And the tendonitis disappeared.

And if he becomes the 71st Frenchman to get into the top 100 in the forty-two years the ATP rankings have existed, he’s owe a bit … to the Swiss. At the end of 2013 and 2014 Pouille camped out for a week in Lausanne to prepare with Stan Wawrinka. Last February, just before his shoulder problem, he was in Dubai spending a week training with Roger Federer. “Hitting with them is amazing, even though you can’t really quantify what it brings,” says Planque. “You have to realise that there’s a bit of an incestuous side to the CNE (National training centre at Roland Garros). It’s difficult to get into from outside. So it’s important to look elsewhere. And with these guys who have won a Slam, there’s a difference in their concept of playing, in the way they train. What was most noticeable? The extreme precision of Federer and the team around him. It was six hours a day! Two hours of tennis in the morning, two in the afternoon and then two hours of physical training.” Pouille adds: “Realising that I could win a set here and a set there against players of that level, it could help me. If I train with them, it’s also to see how they work.” An experience that can also help demystify (a bit) the fact that he’ll be facing Nadal today? “In any case, he can’t be a spectator,” says Planque. “He’ll have to be extremely aggressive. Show Nadal with his attitude and his tactics and his intensity that he’ll need to work hard.”

And what if …

Translated by MAN

Novak Djoković on “respect”

From an interview on RTS, Serbian national television, conducted by Nenad Stefanović and aired on a 23 February 2015 episode of “Svedok” (“Eyewitness”).

During the Australian Open. . . your coach, Boris Becker, said that you don’t get as much respect as you should, being the #1 player in the world—“the man in town,” as he put it.  How did you understand his comments and have you talked about it?

“Yes, we’ve talked a lot about such topics, even before that interview.  Naturally, that’s a component of my career.  Generally, as a player and a person, on and off the court, I take everything that goes on around me very seriously and professionally and try, accordingly, to behave with dignity and respect.

I’m aware of the fact that Federer and Nadal, given their long-term success and the results they’ve achieved on the international level, are still—even though I’m number one—the two most popular active tennis players.  But I don’t mind that at all.  On the contrary, it allows me to grow in another regard and perhaps relieves certain kinds of pressure.

Also, I wouldn’t completely agree with the assertion that I don’t get or enjoy enough respect in the tennis and sports world.  In fact, my whole team did a lot of strategic work in order to obtain positive media coverage.  Along with that, I was simply brought up a certain way; I came from a culture in which respect and appreciation—the positive things in life—are valued.  So, I don’t pay too much attention to criticism, even though I’m aware that without it there’s no personal development, nor can one see things from other perspectives…”

To return a bit to this theory of a lack of respect, if it’s at all valid.  One of the sport’s leading experts, Nick Bollettieri, said that he thinks you’re the most complete player in the history of tennis… Geniuses, whether in tennis or something else, don’t choose where they’re born.  Is it possible that one problem with regard to respect is that you come from a country of, let’s say, “bad guys”—from Serbia, whereas, in tennis, there’s generally a belief that great players only come from great nations?

“Well, the fact is that tennis is a global sport, and it was always a sport of the upper classes.  It’s a very exclusive and expensive sport, which was invented by the French and English—both well-off nations, in every respect, throughout history.  So, considering this, there certainly haven’t been many champions from small countries.  And there are probably certain prejudices that, in this situation, play a role.  How much?  I don’t exactly know.

But, I try to take advantage of that Serbian inat* (which exists and which we mention frequently)—more in the sense of enduring certain things, maybe even unfairness—and display a level of tolerance that perhaps I wouldn’t have at first.  I think that’s a virtue, the right way to behave at that moment.  Because if I reacted impulsively to everything—all the headlines, stories, insinuations, people, media, and so on—throughout my career, I wouldn’t have been able to withstand it mentally and emotionally.  So, I save my energy, which I need on court.”

You mentioned the media and popularity.  Maybe part of the problem is that after a longstanding rivalry between Federer and Nadal, a third guy arrived and ruined all of that—including for many people in media and marketing circles—by becoming a champion?

“I disrupted the world order [laughs]…. I’ve thought about it a lot, but then I got past it in a positive way.  I sat down with the people who surround me, who participate in my career—from my family to my coaching team to those responsible for publicity—to devise a strategy for how I’d like to be presented off court.  That is, I try to be myself both on and off court.  Because I don’t like duplicity or hypocrisy—I like to be honest and open in every possible situation.  Of course, there are events and certain formal occasions when one has to comply with protocols… so you don’t get into trouble.

But I try to show emotions, sometimes even ones that might seem unacceptable to some people.  That’s simply me.  I don’t run away from it.  It’s not that breaking a racquet or letting a curse fly are things to be proud of—far from it.  Kids, don’t do that!  But I’ve talked about it with both Marijan and Boris and they told me (particularly Boris, who has experienced similar things on court) that it’s sometimes better to release that negative emotion, the anger that’s growing within you, than to hold onto it because in the long run it’ll eat you up from the inside.”

You used an interesting word a minute ago: humanity.  I’m curious whether you three at the top of world tennis sometimes exchange private messages.  For instance, did any of them congratulate you on the birth of your son?

“Yes, both personally and by text—how could it be otherwise?  Just about all the players I saw did, and everyone at the top.  Absolutely.  I think the current generation of top tennis players is sending a positive message to all the kids who follow them and look up to everything they do.  Similarly, we’re sending a good message to the media and those who occasionally try to create some tension between us.

That was the case between me and Murray after the final in Australia, when British media, in particular, emphasized some disagreement which then grew into anger and then who knows what else that really had no basis.  We’ve known each other since we were 12 years old.  It’s normal when you’ve been fighting for a Grand Slam title that you’re disappointed and show some emotions after the match.  Everything was completely fine between us in the locker room—he came up to my team and congratulated us, and I did the same to them.

Tennis is a very particular sport, at least when we’re discussing this theme of humanity.  Self-respect, respect toward your opponent, and demonstration of fair play—these are among the reasons I’m proud to be part of a generation aware of that.”

* Note: I left the word “inat” in Serbian because it has no English equivalent.  If you’re interested in the origins and significance of what is widely considered a Serbian national characteristic, see here or here.

~

Translated by Ana Mitrić with an assist from Saša Ozmo.  Feedback is welcome; please let us know what you think in the comments.

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Nadal on playing surface for Rio 2016

For the Spaniard, the country would have a better chance in the Olympic Games if the matches were held on clay.

From an article by Felipe de Oliveira in the Folha de S. Paulo (19 February 2015).

Tennis player Rafael Nadal said Wednesday that the surface chosen for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio would hinder Brazilian athletes.

In an interview with Folha, the Spaniard said that he was surprised by the fact that the country opted for hard courts rather than clay, which in theory would be unfavourable for the local players.

“I’m surprised that Brasil wanted that surface [hard court].  Look at history: Guga [Kuerten] was a great champion in clay especially.

It would be logical for it to be on clay.  [Thomaz] Bellucci could even have final hopes; it would be more favourable for him.”

The choice of surface is made by the Organising Committee for Rio 2016 and by the International Tennis Federation.

According to Nadal, the English chose grass for the 2012 London Games to facilitate the performance of their players.

It was a success: the Brit Andy Murray won the Gold Medal.

“The type of surface can have an influence on performances, like at the London Games.  We were in the middle of the clay hard court(1) season at the time and had to play on another surface.  Using logic would be ideal, but there are always other interests involved,” said Nadal.

The Spaniard, who is competing this week in the Rio tournament, is building a training centre named after him in Manacor, his home town.  According to him, Brazil also needs to invest more in talent scouting and youth preparation.

“I don’t believe there’s a lack of talent in such a large country.  That’s hard to imagine.  I think it’s important to have good schools and training centres for the sport to develop more.  We understand there can be highs and lows.  Brazil has Bellucci today, but I think you should aspire to having more players,” said the world number 3, the title defender in Rio.

A fan of new technology, the Spaniard recently announce that he’s using a new racquet that can send information about shots in real time.  “Everything that helps the sport evolve is valid.”

According to Nadal, 2015 will be a year of analysis and recuperation after injuries and the problems encountered last year—he was away from the tour for more than six months.

“I don’t know what I can accomplish.  I’m happy with being at least able to return to the tour.  I don’t know if I can win again and win more titles.”

~

Translated by Mark Nixon.

(1) Corrected from clay to hard court.  Thank you to all who pointed it out.

Please use the comment section for suggestions about the translation; they’re appreciated.