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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“It would be mission impossible” – Marion Bartoli has no thoughts of a comeback

Translated from l’Équipe print edition April 3, 2015 page 11. Article by Vincent Cognet.

Marion Bartoli is “getting such a kick” from her “second life” that she’s never thought of returning to competition.

Marion Bartoli divides her life today between Dubai and London and admits she “spends a lot of time on planes.”  This week the 2013 Wimbledon champion, only thirty, is in Miami commentating for TennisTV. Just before the Suarez Navarro – Petkovic semi-final, and sitting at a table in front of a large salad, she agreed to take stock of her new life and women’s tennis.

A month ago on Twitter you asked your fans if they’d like you to come back to the tour. Was the idea in the back of your head?

[laughs] They say often that fans don’t get a chance to express their opinions. As I kept hearing some my fans constantly asking me the same question, I told myself I’d tweet asking their opinion. The answer was clear: I should stay with my win at Wimbledon.

But you would have seriously considered it if the answer had been the opposite?

I don’t think it would have changed my decision. I had a very clear head about it. And I’m so involved in my “second life”, being creative, painting, fashion etc. The fact is that I’m getting such a kick from this life that I don’t think about tennis.

You’ve got remarkably trim in the last few months. Are you sure you don’t miss the competition?

It’s for my swimsuit in Miami [laughs]. Seriously, I’m very happy with my private life and my restructuring. I needed to get back into shape for Strive, a charity. I ran three marathons and did 1,400 km cycling. And I’m still playing exhibitions. I love playing tennis so much. It’s a pleasure now to go onto a court. But I never tell myself: “It really was good when I played.”

What you’ll never get again is the adrenaline …

Exactly. It’s impossible to get back the adrenaline rush that I felt when I served for the Wimbledon title [she served an ace against Sabine Lisicki to win 6-1, 6-4 on July 6, 2013]. I knew what I was leaving when I quit. I put a cover over it. It would be a mission impossible. If I didn’t, I would be eternally frustrated and it would tear me apart. On the other hand, when I need a lift, I put the Wimbledon final back on, and it’s there again.

You watch it often?

I refuse to count! My friend knows it: when I’m feeling a bit blue, he takes the DVD and slides it into my computer. And I watch the match again … and I’m pumped up again.

What do you think of today’s women’s tennis?

I’m wondering about Eugénie Bouchard who’s sliding badly down the rankings and who undoubtedly made a mistake changing coaches in the middle of the season (her split with Nick Saviano was announced on 25 November 2014, not the ‘middle of the season’ [MAN]). In general I see a new generation arriving, Pliskova, Keys, Muguruza, Garcia, Dodin who are a new prototype of player: they all have a big serve and try to end points after two or three shots. That’s the evolution of tennis. And it’s not by chance that Serena and Sharapova are the only ones staying at the top. They’re the only ones playing like that. With the exception of Halep who has exceptional defence, I think intermediate games will disappear.

You’ve followed the formidable Fed Cup run of the French team?

I watched the matches on the telly. Seeing them get back into the World Group shows a real cohesion on the team. It’s Amélie [Mauresmo] who made the link. She has the ability to bring together, to instil confidence … suddenly the players are moving mountains on the court.

You don’t regret not having experienced a collective adventure like that?

– First of all, it wasn’t the same captain during my time. And my rule is never to live with regrets.

Translated by MAN

Jan de Witt talks Gilles Simon at the 2014 US Open

Original source: L’Équipe 2 September 2014 quoted by Vincent Cognet

Interview 

It’s 13h30. In half an hour, Gilles will leave for his practice session that he’s been sharing almost exclusively with Gael Monfils since the beginning of the American tour – a session that’s neither technical nor tactical, only focused on the quality and intensity of strokes. While he’s waiting, his German coach, Jan De Witt, sits himself down in the players’ garden with a cappuccino to talk about the fourth round against Marin Cilic and many other things.

Q : Were you surprised by Gilles Simon’s success against David Ferrer?

Absolutely not, because his level of play has been excellent since Rome. But he was affected by a lot of injuries and he had trouble translating it. I knew that he was in great physical condition. Against Ferrer, it’s nothing but a matter of managing emotions.

Q : Yet their head to head was not in his favor…

It’s not that important. If Gilles is in good physical condition and feels relaxed, he has the level to challenge those guys. You only have to remember his match against Nadal in Rome. It could have been the same scenario against Djokovic at Wimbledon but he got tense too early in the match.

Q : Why?

Stress can arise at any moment, before or during a match. The whole issue for players is to control it. Against Ferrer, he didn’t get tense for one second. We saw the result. And yet, the intensity of the match was extraordinary. I saw David after the match an he told me that he was physically dead despite feeling in good form. It says a lot about Gilles.

Q : Does this physical condition come from the training in Halle, last winter?

There is a connection. But it’s not the only reason. Since the beginning of the season, we organized three training periods. In the US, Gilles trained very hard physically for about ten days. Really demanding work. But if you get tense, it’s all for nothing. Stress is terrible because it makes you battle against two opponents : the player in front of you and yourself. It’s crazy how much energy it consumes.

Q : For him, how does being fit manifest itself?

By his speed: How fast he moves on the court, and the speed of his strokes. If he unleashes his forehand down the line, it goes really really fast. The problem is to do that for three and a half or four hours. The key is to maintain this level of intensity.

Q : Is it the best Gilles Simon you’ve seen since the beginning of your partnership?

Hard to say. He has already played some big matches. But it’s true that his consistency is very good at the moment. It’s linked to the fact that he doesn’t have any injury. His shoulder is fine, his knee as well.

Q : What would you say is Gilles Simon’s playing style?

It’s not monolithic. His style is to adapt. He plays a different type of tennis depending on his opponents. You’ll see, against Cilic, he won’t play the same tennis he played against Ferrer. Against Delbonis, it was yet another type. You have to play slowly (as to not give Delbonis the speed he likes) and high. Maybe that’s why he didn’t serve well : his game plan asked for so much discipline that it consumed a lot of his energy.

Q : How do you foresee his fourth round against Cilic?

It will be a very easy match to prepare tactically because of Cilic’s way of playing, which suits Gilles perfectly. He’s not scared of big servers because he returns very well and he’s better than them in the rallies. Marin can’t hurt Gilles. Impossible. And I don’t think he will. Goran is surely preparing his player to develop a new approach. I won’t talk about tactics for hours with Gilles, I’ll talk of state of mind. I’ll tell him that Cilic is a very good player, that he’ll surely have some surprises prepared, that he’s capable of high level shots. Gilles will have to accept to be led, at least for a certain period of time, even if he plays a great match. It will be up to him to stay calm and think about his options. Because it’s his biggest strength : he’s smarter than the majority of players (smile). But if you’re stressed, you’re not smart anymore.

Q : But it’s unlikely that Simon will start to feel stressed now…

False. A player can very well be calm the first three matches and lose his self control during the fourth.

Q : But where does it come from?

From the expectations that he puts on himself . We’re always talking about the fans, the media etc. who put pressure on the player. I don’t believe that. Even better, I don’t care. Our only objective is the performance. In elite sport, the only real danger is to put pressure on yourself.

~

Translation by Suze (@halyggaly)