Injuries and championships have made Rafael Nadal a more reflective and relaxed man.
The 27-year-old won a record eighth French Open men’s tennis title yesterday, beating fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in straight sets in Paris.
In the past, Nadal immediately would have started training on grass to prepare for Wimbledon. This time, after continued discomfort during a four-month comeback following knee injuries that caused him to miss the U.S. Open, the London Olympics and the Australian Open, he’ll rest.
“I’m in a position that I can take everything a little bit more relaxed,” he said in a news conference. “Everything went much better than I thought.”
Nadal defeated his friend and Davis Cup teammate 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 at Roland Garros with a blistering forehand to become the first man in tennis history to win the same Grand Slam event eight times.
“He has everything, no?” Ferrer said in a news conference. “He can play aggressive, he has good hands at the net and physically he is unbelievable.”
Nadal’s 12th Grand Slam title came a day after Serena Williams of the U.S. won her 16th major singles championship with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Russia’s Maria Sharapova in the women’s final.
Nadal, who was sidelined for seven months with injuries, called the French Open title “a big personal satisfaction for me.” His only career defeat at Roland Garros came in 2009 when he lost to Sweden’s Robin Soderling in the fourth round.
“Five months ago, no one in my team dreamt of a comeback like this,” Nadal told reporters, his hand resting on the Coupe Des Mousquetaires trophy he’d received from Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt. “It’s fantastic and incredible. It’s an important step.”
Yesterday’s final was interrupted by protesters, including one who rushed the court holding a flare who was tackled by security before he could get to Nadal. Ten people were arrested.
After a shocking second-round loss at Wimbledon last June, the left-hander retreated to his native Mallorca to recover from a partially torn patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee.
Many Bad Moments
“We had many, many bad moments,” Toni Nadal, Rafael’s long-time coach and uncle said in an interview in the players’ lounge at Roland Garros yesterday. His nephew struggled with terrible pain during his first two tournaments back, in Chile and Brazil.
In Sao Paulo, where he won the title, Rafael had been “very, very down,” Toni Nadal said. “I talked with him for half an hour, because he was really bad. Really sad,” he added.
Things improved during his third event in Acapulco, Mexico, when “the knee got better, he could run and play.”
Rafael Nadal, who said he had to overcome doubts and felt at times “a little bit sad” during his absence, said his injury has forced him to adapt his practice and tournament schedule.
Unlike previous years, when he would rush to a grass-court tournament the day after the French Open final to prepare for Wimbledon, Nadal has decided to go easy on himself. He pulled out of a grass-court event in Halle, Germany, starting today so he can go home to rest and have a doctor examine him.
“I won’t play a tournament before Wimbledon, so that’s not the ideal situation before a Grand Slam that is on grass and the conditions are very different,” said Nadal, the champion at the All England Club in 2008 and 2010.
He’s also reduced his time on court.
“Before I wanted to practice every day a lot to be 100 percent sure that I am ready, but that’s not possible anymore,” he said. “When you get more experience on tour when you get older, probably you don’t need to practice as much as you need when you were a junior or when you are 19 or 20 years old.”
His love of competing has kept him going during his most difficult moments.
“My motivation comes from my love, my passion for this sport,” he said. “I really need to have fun in what I do. I really love that. There are more important things than sport, but sport is a big part of my life.”