He is beefy enough to be kept in a steakhouse. His legs are like wheels and won’t be out of place in a garage. If Roger Federer is the Master of the Universe in tennis, Rafael Nadal is He-Man.
In January, the 20-year-old Nadal will swagger into India for the ATP Tour Chennai Open. The world No. 2 and twice French Open winner played the tournament in 2004, losing in the first round. He was a horizon presence then. Now the Spaniard’s sun has risen and he is the biggest star in tennis after Roger Federer.
Feral on the court and shy off it, Nadal is in a bit of a slump lately. At last week’s Masters Cup, he reached the semifinal. So be sure he will be fired up when he kicks the 2007 season off in Chennai.
The Hindustan Times sent a ‘hola!’ and some questions Nadal’s way in cyberspace.
Excerpts from the e-chat:
What are your memories from your first visit to Chennai?
I was a newcomer then and no one knew about me. Though I lost in the singles to Thierry Ascione, I managed to win the doubles title (with Tommy Robredo). The win was vital. It gave me a lot of confidence.
What made you decide to play in Chennai again?
When I came in 2004, the crowd supported me and was very encouraging. I was looking forward to coming back in 2006 but a foot injury forced me to stay out of quite a few tournaments and I had to pull out. Now I am happy that I will be coming next year. I would love to come and improve my singles performance, start the year on a winning note and gain some valuable points in the ATP rankings.
Your rise over the last two years has been astonishing. What would you attribute it to?
It feels nice to have such a good record and success so early on in my career. But I know this is just the start. I have been training hard and trying to improve daily. I owe it all to my uncle and coach Toni. He has been instrumental in shaping my career. It was hard going in my formative phase. He put tons of intensity in the training. I guess all of that has helped me be who I am and to have so much self-control. He’s a special person. He thinks a lot and if you listen to him, says things that aren’t the usual.
Could you tell us how you developed a) your ability to run and stretch over five sets covering the court, and b) your muscles?
I think it is all part of the game. You need to be ready and fit to play. It’s not all physical. Concentration is a big part of it too. I don’t do any special training for my mus cles. Almost everyone in my family is strong. It is true I work hard but I don’t do anything special to develop muscles.
Could you also talk about your diet?
I don’t have a special diet. I do consume several calories and for that I eat a lot of pasta and salads. I love fish with pasta and eat that very often.
Before this year’s Wimbledon final, you charged to the baseline after the toss and jumped around. Do you use such methods to psyche out your rivals?
No. I always go with the intention of giving it a hundred percent. I was just trying to get charged up for the game ahead and stay mentally focused. My opponents know that and that helps me.
How much has reaching the final at Wimbledon changed your approach to grass and to your career?
Reaching the Wimbledon final was great. Especially considering that I was successful on clay and it was believed that I don’t have the game to succeed on grass. I understand hard and clay. I’m still trying to understand grass. I give myself two-three years to improve that. In order to play well there you have to have a good sense of the surface. But I’m still young. There’s a lot that I still need to improve.
What’s the key to your success against Roger Federer? You defeated him four times in six matches this year.
Roger is a complete player and you need to play at 120% against him. I don’t really know of any secret. As I say I give my best all the time and maybe that’s helping me. It is true that I have played him more on clay and that’s to my benefit, but we always have close matches.
You and Federer already have set up an intense rivalry. What are your own favourite sports rivalries?
I will not call it a rivalry. It’s just that we play quite often and all our matches are tough and close matches and that’s what makes it interesting. Otherwise we have a good relationship. I did look in the past at players like Carlos Moya and other Spaniards.
You met Ronaldinho in Stockholm recently. What did you talk about?
Feliciano Lopez and I met him at the hotel. We spent some 30 minutes chatting. Everyone knows he is one of the best, if not the best. I like to meet athletes like him.
What’s your strategy under pressure?
Whether I’ve won or lost, my motto has always been the same: to work every day so things don’t twist the wrong way. It’s the only way to achieve something. Under pressure, I always play my natural game and go for shots.