Moya: ‘Rafa Arrives In Paris Both Physically And Mentally Prepared’
Spaniard assesses 33-year-old's chances at Rolex Paris Masters
It's two minutes before noon in Paris, as Rafael Nadal ties his shoelaces. Novak Djokovic, his hitting partner on Centre Court inside the AccorHotels Arena, playfully taps the Spaniard's shoulder before making his way to the other side of the court.
For the next two hours, the top seeds engage in a high-energy practice session that includes fierce rallies, masterful shot precision, some match play and even a few laughs as they prepare for their opening matches in the French capital.
It's not typical for players of their profile and rank, and with so much still up for grabs this late in the season, to be standing across the net from one another outside of official match play. But for Djokovic, the No. 1 player in the ATP Rankings, and Nadal, the current leader in the ATP Race to London, the players are just fine putting their intense rivalry and battle for year-end No. 1 supremacy to the side -- for one afternoon, at least.
Overseeing Nadal's end of the court is his coach, Carlos Moya. The former World No. 1 spoke with ATPTour.com to discuss the practice session with Djokovic and what to expect from the 19-time Grand Slam champion as he returns from a five-week break.
The top two players, both fighting to finish the year at No. 1, have just walked off the practice court. This good-natured show of mutual respect and camaraderie is not so common, perhaps, in other sports, is it?
I’m not sure if we can see this in any other sport, but here we like to keep things simple. Why couldn’t we practise with Djokovic? We’ve tried on many occasions but couldn’t due to scheduling issues. It just happened to work out here in Paris. I think you must just look at it for what it is without placing some sort of value or extra significance on it.
The team has been in Paris for a few days now. What’s your assessment of Nadal after these opening workouts?
Alright; better every day. The court is a bit fast; the ball doesn't bounce in a way that allows for a good read or much reaction time. The only option is to be aggressive. We've taken this approach for some time now and practised in this mode to prepare for whatever we face, but what the opponent brings to the match is also a factor, as always.
Looking at the calendar, how satisfied are you with the time you've allotted for rest, tournament entries and staying on course with meeting goals?
Our planning has gone well and we're happy so long as we're producing the intended results.
This year, the team has managed to reach the semi-finals at all but one tournament (Acapulco).
Correct. But I think more in terms of matches, rather than in terms of weeks. If you drop a lot of first-round matches, you have to play more tournaments. So more than tournaments, we look more closely at the matches, both individually and in bulk, and how Rafa is feeling. We try to maximize the time spent on court, both at events and back at home, because it is about being mentally fresh and bringing the most amount of intensity and preparation into each match. The results are a product of that. So we have to make adjustments to ensure the right balance throughout the year.
The team arrives in Paris after a rest period.
It's strange because Rafa rested for a bit, then returned at the Laver Cup. From there, he went on a trip. There was the wedding. It's been a bit different from what we're used to. But he's managed to rest, which is the important thing. He had a wonderful time on his wedding day and immediately it was back to training, because instead of going on honeymoon vacation after the marriage ceremony, he actually did it before. So two days after the wedding, we were already back in training. It's been different, but it's also been a very good past several days.
Why has the Rolex Paris Masters been a tournament in which historically he hasn't produced his best results?
There have been a variety of reasons, one being the time of year. Most seasons, he's gone into Paris with very little rest; he's entered the event physically worn and hasn't been able to play to the best of his abilities. In fact, since I've come on board as a coach, that's been the case -- he hasn't been in the best shape to allow him to perform at his best.
In 2017, Rafa was forced to withdraw and last year he did not enter.
Two seasons ago, Rafa had to retire in the quarter-finals [due to a knee injury] and he only participated because the year-end No. 1 spot was at stake. Last year when he played here, he had to have [ankle] surgery the following week ... His physical conditioning going into this event hasn't been in our favour. This year is different. He's coming into the event well-conditioned. We'll see how things play out and if his health holds up this week and in London.
This year, then, he's giving himself the opportunity to compete without anything to hold him back.
Physically, yes. But you have to factor in his quality of play and what his opponent brings to the match as well. Nothing is guaranteed. It does not assure you anything, but Rafa is arriving in Paris both physically and mentally prepared."
You sound optimistic.
More than optimistic, I'm always realistic. I know Rafa as a player, I'm conscious of the state he's in when he enters an event, I have a sense of what he’s capable of doing and I'm always optimistic about his chances. But I'm realistic as well. I'm positive he can come through victorious but I'm aware he can have a bad day and end up losing a match. On outdoor hard courts, you can have a 10 or 15-minute spell of less-than-spectacular play, recover, and go on to win the match. On a fast indoor surface, you're punished for any lapses by dropping a set and possibly the match. That puts the pressure on Rafa to perform at 100 per cent throughout the match and retain control of matters at all times. Of course, the level of an opponent's play factors into the outcome, so it's important we control everything within our power.