© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Rafael Nadal, the 11-time champion, records his 87th match win at Roland Garros, striking 25 winners past qualifier Yannick Hanfmann on Monday.

The Moment Nadal's Practice Routine Changed Forever

Nadal looks back at how a foot injury more than 13 years ago impacted him

World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, who advanced to the second round at Roland Garros Monday with a straight-sets victory against Yannick Hanfmann, has long been praised for his constant intensity and never-wavering work ethic.

But the 11-time Roland Garros champion said that more than a decade ago, after coming from two sets down against then-World No. 12 Ivan Ljubicic in the Madrid final — that tournament took place on indoor hard courts in October at the time — things changed for him following a foot injury that kept him out until February 2006.

“I was a hard worker when I was a kid. Very hard worker. Especially because I was able to play with very, very high intensity for a long time. But being honest, after the injury that I had in 2005 with my foot, my way to practise changed drastically,” Nadal said. “Until I had that problem on the foot in Madrid at the end of the season, in the tournament I won, what can I say, I couldn't work. I had to change the way that I had to approach my tennis career in terms of the way that I practised, in terms of the way that I can, how many hours I can work or not.”

“I think the positive thing during all my career if I was able to practise two hours, three hours, one-hour-30, normally I did with highest intensity possible. And that's all. What I did during all my career probably is go on court with the goal to improve something, and that makes me feel alive always and makes me feel passionate about the process of improving anything.”

In a way, the 32-year-old has taken the same approach to his results during this European spring clay-court season. Entering the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Nadal had not lifted a trophy, his longest title drought to start a year since 2004, when he claimed his maiden ATP Tour trophy.

But he never allowed himself to be complacent, simply expecting his level to come together for this clay-court Grand Slam. All Nadal focused on was pushing to improve daily, as always.

“It's very difficult to be convinced that you're okay. I don't know if many people are convinced about anything in this life,” Nadal said. “I think when you're convinced about something, you're very arrogant, because most of the time you can hope that something is going to happen, and have the desire for something to happen. But to be convinced, I'm almost convinced about nothing in this world.

“The only thing I was convinced about is that I wanted to work, to try and arrive at this event in a good shape, whatever it was. Whether it was Madrid, Rome, or here now.”

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Nadal returned to at or near his best in Rome, finally claiming an elusive triumph in 2019. He says that there was not a switch that turned on. 

“Feeling good is what helps,” Nadal said. “What happened in Rome is that I have been evolving continuously on clay. And in Rome it's true that I was able to renew at a high level, better than Madrid. I wasn't able to confirm my level in the semi-finals in Madrid, but you have some good moments and bad moments. And in Rome, I had almost only good moments.

“So we're here now. It's a completely different tournament. I will try to play well, fight well, and enjoy this tournament which is one of the most important one in my life.”

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After his straightforward victory against Hanfmann, Nadal is not looking too far ahead. The Spaniard knows his form has improved steadily during this swing, but he is not turning his focus to a potential 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires yet. Nadal is solely focused on his next opponent, Yannick Maden.

“Every year is a new challenge,” Nadal said. “Today I was able to win the first challenge, and after tomorrow I gonna have the second challenge. That's the only way.”

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