'There were times when I couldn't imagine how Rafael Nadal...', says former ace

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'There were times when I couldn't imagine how Rafael Nadal...', says former ace

The 2021 season certainly did not start as Rafael Nadal would have liked. The former world number 1 has had to deal with a nagging back problem since mid-January, which forced him to skip the entire ATP Cup. Although he wasn't 100% fit, the 34-year-old Spaniard still has participated in the Australian Open after the two weeks of quarantine, but was unable to overcome the obstacle Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals (gaining two sets of advantage for the third time in his career).

From then on came a string of forfeits: the Majorcan gave up the tournaments in Rotterdam, Dubai and Acapulco, as well as the first Masters 1000 of the year staged in Miami. If there are no further setbacks, the 20-time Grand Slam champion should return to the field in Monte Carlo for the start of the 'campaign' on his beloved clay.

In a long interview with the 'Sport.ro' portal, former ATP number 26 Victor Hanescu described how it feels to face a legend like Nadal. The Romanian has met the Iberian on four occasions, always being beaten in two sets.

Hanescu pays tribute to Rafael Nadal

"It's incredible to play against Rafael Nadal, it's impressive," Victor Hanescu said. "There were times when I couldn't imagine how a person can move so fast and get to some balls that were not possible for others.

At that moment, you realize that you have someone extraordinary in front of you." Hanescu, who reached his lone Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2005 French Open, also asserted that Nadal’s success didn't change his intrinsic humility and down-to-earth nature.

"Honestly, [Rafa] is very polite, he's an athlete who talks to everyone," Hanescu said. "He's very modest and that's seen in everything he says. I remember I was at the Beijing Olympics," the 39-year-old added.

"At the opening ceremony, Nadal was next to our group. He was surrounded by hundreds of athletes who wanted to take a picture with him. Nadal was taking pictures with everyone, he never said he didn't feel like it or couldn't.

He took pictures with everyone and that shows what kind of man he is." Currently, Rafael Nadal is working with head coach Carlos Moya, and he has been working with him since 2016. The former Spanish player has helped Nadal win six Grand Slams and seven ATP 1000 Masters so far.

Even though Rafa is not playing at the Miami Open 2021, he’ll hope to make a comeback on the court soon. Will Nadal be able to outperform all the other players once again at the upcoming clay-court season?