Tennis World Magazine - Excerpt From Rafael Nadal´s Autobiography (Part II)



by PHILIP MARE

Tennis World Magazine - Excerpt From Rafael Nadal´s Autobiography (Part II)

Today we present the second in our two-part special preview of Rafael Nadal's new autobiography. You can read the first part here. For breakfast I had my usual. Some cereal, orange juice, a milk chocolate drink— never coffee— and my favorite from home, bread sprinkled with salt and olive oil.

I’d woken up feeling good. Tennis is so much about how you feel on the day. When you get up in the morning, any ordinary morning, sometimes you feel bright and healthy and strong; other days you feel muggy and fragile. That day I felt as alert and nimble and full of energy as I ever had.

It was in that mood that at ten thirty I crossed the road for my final training session at Wimbledon’s Court 17, close to the Centre Court. Before I started hitting, I lay down on a bench, as I always do, and Rafael Maymó— who I nickname “Titín”— bent and stretched my knees, massaged my legs, my shoulder, and then gave special attention to my feet.

(My left foot is the most vulnerable part of my body, where it hurts most often, most painfully.) The idea is to wake up the muscles and reduce the possibility of injuries. Usually I’d hit balls for an hour in the warm- up before a big match, but this time, because it was drizzling, I left it after twenty- five minutes.

I started gently, as always, and gradually increased the pace until I ended up running and hitting with the same intensity as in a match. I trained with more nerves than usual that morning, but also with greater concentration.

Toni was there and so was Titín, and my agent, Carlos Costa, a former professional tennis player, who was there to warm up with me. I was more quiet than usual. We all were. No jokes. No smiles. When we wrapped up, I could tell, just from a glance, that Toni was not too happy, that he felt I hadn’t been hitting the ball as cleanly as I might have.

He looked reproachful— I’ve known that look all my life— and worried. He was right that I hadn’t been at my sharpest just then, but I knew something that he didn’t, and never could, enormously important as he had been in the whole of my tennis career: physically I felt in perfect shape, save for a pain on the sole of my left foot that I’d have to have treated before I went on court, and inside I bore the single- minded conviction that I had it in me to win.

Tennis against a rival with whom you’re evenly matched, or whom you have a chance of beating, is all about raising your game when it’s needed. A champion plays at his best not in the opening rounds of a tournament but in the semi- finals and finals against the best opponents, and a great tennis champion plays at his best in a Grand Slam final.

I had my fears— I was in a constant battle to contain my nerves— but I fought them down, and the one thought that occupied my brain was that today I’d rise to the occasion. I was physically fit and in good form.

I had played very well a month earlier at the French Open, where I’d beaten Federer in the final, and I’d played some incredible games here on grass. The two last times we’d met here at Wimbledon he’d gone in as the favorite.

This year I still felt I wasn’t the favorite. But there was a difference. I didn’t think that Federer was the favorite to win either. I put my chances at fifty- fifty. I also knew that, most probably, the balance of poorly chosen or poorly struck shots would stand at close to fifty- fifty between us by the time it was all over.

That is in the nature of tennis, especially with two players as familiar with each other’s game as Federer and I are. You might think that after the millions and millions of balls I’ve hit, I’d have the basic shots of tennis sown up, that reliably hitting a true, smooth, clean shot every time would be a piece of cake.

But it isn’t. Not just because every day you wake up feeling differently, but because every shot is different; every single one. From the moment the ball is in motion, it comes at you at an infinitesimal number of angles and speeds; with more topspin, or backspin, or flatter, or higher.

The differences might be minute, microscopic, but so are the variations your body makes— shoulders, elbow, wrists, hips, ankles, knees— in every shot. And there are so many other factors— the weather, the surface, the rival.

No ball arrives the same as another; no shot is identical. So every time you line up to hit a shot, you have to make a split- second judgment as to the trajectory and speed of the ball and then make a split- second decision as to how, how hard, and where you must try and hit the shot back.

And you have to do that over and over, often fifty times in a game, fifteen times in twenty seconds, in continual bursts more than two, three, four hours, and all the time you’re running hard and your nerves are taut; it’s when your coordination is right and the tempo is smooth that the good sensations come, that you are better able to manage the biological and mental feat of striking the ball cleanly in the middle of the racket and aiming it true, at speed and under immense mental pressure, time after time.

And of one thing I have no doubt: the more you train, the better your feeling. Tennis is, more than most sports, a sport of the mind; it is the player who has those good sensations on the most days, who manages to isolate himself best from his fears and from the ups and downs in morale a match inevitably brings, who ends up being world number one.

This was the goal I had set myself during my four patient years as number two to Federer, and which I knew I would be very close to reaching if I won this Wimbledon final.

Rafael Nadal