Rafael Nadal played only seven tournaments in 2021, adding 27 victories and lifting two titles. Like many other players, the Spaniard struggled through the pandemic, staying at home in Mallorca between March and September and skipping the US Open.
Rafa claimed the title in Acapulco in late February and had not competed until September. Starting over, Rafa lost in the Rome quarterfinals before raising his level at Roland Garros to claim the 20th Grand Slam title without dropping a set.
That trophy secured Rafa the second Laureus World Sports Athlete of the Year Award, his first since 2011. Speaking about the past year, Nadal said it was difficult for the entire planet, admitting that he would give away the Roland Garros trophy to erase the pandemic and recover everyday life.
"I want to thank the Laureus Academy from the bottom of my heart. I have had some fantastic competitors. The rest of the athletes probably deserve the trophy just like me, but this was my year and I couldn't be happier.
Winning the French Open and equaling Roger Federer's record of 20 Grand Slam titles has been an unforgettable moment. It means a lot to match my great rival, but at the same time, my great friend. It's something extraordinary after all the history we've 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 families who have suffered or lost someone." In a recent interview, the 34-year-old revealed that the COVID-19 crisis had made him take serious stock of his priorities.
He also claimed that the pandemic-related doubts played a big part in his decision to skip the defence of his US Open title.
Rafael Nadal participated in just seven events over the past 14 months
"It has been a tough year, I really believe, for everyone," Rafael Nadal said.
"If you are not completely arrogant, everybody needs to be less happy under these very difficult circumstances around the world, no? Because you have a lot of people suffering, a lot of people have lost a family member, a lot of people are losing their companies, their job.
For me personally, it was not an easy year. I don't think it is a good thing to stop the body dramatically like we had to do for two months," the Spaniard said. "We had lockdown, then when you come back – especially with older bodies that have [clocked up] a lot of kilometres – it is difficult to do so at the highest level.
But I really believe that we managed it well." The Spaniard has participated in just seven events over the past 14 months, and he attributed the reduced workload to his age, the pandemic and also the prioritization of his 'happiness'
"I didn't play many tournaments [this year], only Australia before Monte Carlo," Rafael Nadal said. "Every decision is respectful under the circumstances. And for me I make decisions thinking about my happiness, more than anything else.
That's why I'm not playing that much. But I have developed the competitive spirit that I had when I had been playing [more]."