Team Player: Rafael Nadal

For starters: Rafael Nadal isn’t a tennis star, he’s a superstar and on the verge of becoming the most successful tennis player of all time. And: he gives virtually no interviews. In our exclusive conversation though, he tells us how he manages to consistently deliver top performances, what sort of relationship he has with his rivals – and how people often misjudge him as a person.
Text Michael Köckritz
Photo Getty Images

Mr. Nadal, imagine you had to explain to someone who didn’t know you what kind of person you are. What would you say?
I can tell you that I would like to be remembered as a good person.

Since we’re on the subject of mortality: You once said that you can’t fight against age. How do you feel about getting old?
Getting old is a completely natural thing that happens to us all. I know I am growing older, but as long as I stay fit and ready to play at the highest level, I’m not really worried.

What is your secret to staying fit and consistently delivering top performances?
I don’t think there is any secret other than hard work, dedication and talent. Another important component is the feeling that I can fight for every tournament that I play.

"I can tell you that I would like to be remembered as a good person."

Rafael Nadal

Would you say that time is your friend or your enemy?
Well, to be honest that’s a delicate question because I’m actually very punctual for some things, always on time, while for other things I don’t have such a good track record. Though I am getting better. On the other hand, I am someone who plans his day very precisely. When I’m at a tournament, for example, it’s very important to be organized and know what I have to do.

In which moments during the day are you completely with yourself?
That depends on where I am. At tournaments, there are moments where I have to be alone in my room. That time by myself allows me to think and to focus.

And what do you think about?
It can be about a match, about something in my daily life – or about nothing at all. But I do need that time to think. When I’m back at home, things are quite different. There I’m always busy with practicing, meeting friends, playing golf, going down to the sea . . .

“I don’t think there is any secret to delivering top performances other than hard work, dedication and talent.”

Rafael Nadal

How do you deal with your psychological strengths and weaknesses?
I deal with everything that has to do with tennis with professionalism. I have the fortune to be surrounded by my team and by my family and that I can count on their advice. And the psychological is just one aspect of many in tennis. I don’t have any mental coach or something like that. The way I deal with it is with myself. And I can say that it’s worked out quite well.

What does mental strength mean to you anyway?
In general?

And with regard to tennis.
In general, I understand mental strength as being able to act as you normally would and to make the right decision in a stressful situation. When it comes to tennis, on the other hand, I see mental strength as the ability to choose the right shot at the most difficult moment. I also believe you can practice that. At least that’s what I have done since I started playing tennis.

But can you simulate the pressure of a match when training?
I would say so. I always practice and train as if I was playing a match. And when I’m playing a match, that’s a sort of mental practice as well.

"I always practice and train as if I was playing a match. And when I’m playing a match, that’s a sort of mental practice as well."

Rafael Nadal

Would you consider yourself more of a lone wolf?
No, absolutely not. I love to be surrounded by people, especially by my family.

So that means you would describe yourself as a team player?
I think I’m always a team player. I love team sports, even though I compete in a sport that you play as an individual. But I think I’m a team player – every day, in tennis, but also in my other activities.

You once said, “Life is more than tennis.”
That’s just a fact of life. There is so much more to life than tennis. My family and my friends are also part of my life and they will be there in the future when I stop playing tennis.

(. . .)

Read the entire interview with Rafael Nadal in the current rampstyle #22.

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