Rafael Nadal played only seven tournaments in 2021, scoring 27 victories and lifting two titles. Like many other players, the Spaniard struggled during the pandemic, staying at home in Mallorca between March and September and skipping the US Open.
Rafa claimed the title in Acapulco at the end of February and hadn't competed until September. Starting all over, Rafa lost in the Rome quarter-final before raising his level at Roland Garros to claim the 20th Major title without losing a set!
That trophy secured the second Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsman of the Year for Rafa, the first since 2011. Speaking about the last year, Nadal said that it was a difficult one for the entire planet, admitting he would give the Roland Garros trophy away to erase the pandemic and bring back an everyday life.
"I want to say thank you very much from the bottom of my heart to the Laureus Academy. I have had some fantastic competitors. The rest of the sportsmen probably deserve the trophy the same as me, but this was my year, and I can't be happier.
Winning the French Open and equalling Roger Federer's record of 20 Major titles has been an unforgettable moment. It means a lot to equal my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It's something extraordinary after all the history we have had together on and off the court.
The pandemic we are facing is unprecedented, and I want to send a message of support to all the families who have suffered or lost somebody.
Rafael Nadal opens up about struggles that pandemic brought in 2020.
I suppose that the Academy members decided based on the fact that I claimed the 20th Major title and equaled Roger Federer's record.
It means a lot, especially at this stage of my career; it's the most unexpected award in my life. The last year was challenging for all of us due to the pandemic; I would give away my Roland Garros crown if that could have erased everything that happened.
Many people lost their relatives and jobs, and it wasn't easy for me to play again after such a long break. I missed the US Open and had to make the decision. I didn't prepare well for Roland Garros, with only a couple of tournaments in the entire season.
I'm almost 35, and it's not easy for me to win the big events against the younger rivals. I have been here since 2003, and you need a passion to stay competitive for all those years. Also, you have to be ready to adapt, as the sport changes quickly.
I want to continue doing the best thing that I think I do: play tennis. And when my career comes to an end, I hope to fit in well because it will not be easy, although I have an intense life outside of tennis that fulfills me," Rafael Nadal said.
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