Nadal: 'Playing On The Street With Friends' Contributed To Success
Rafael Nadal received a hero’s welcome from fans as he made his way onto Louis Armstrong Stadium for Media Day at the 2019 US Open, but the three-time champion shared that the opposite – a normal upbringing filled with both fun and challenging moments – has been instrumental to his success on the ATP Tour.
“You need to be prepared for the tough moments,” he said. “If you overprotect the young kids when they have problems – because in life you are going to have problems at some point – probably they are not very well-prepared…
"Probably that's one of the reasons I have been able to be very competitive at very young stages of my career. I probably got a normal education, not like superstar education. I just played on the street with my friends. I had a very really normal life. That helps you to grow with the normal education.”
Nadal’s best memory from Flushing Meadows, rather than being the completion of his career Grand Slam here in 2010, was borne from one of those tough moments. The Spaniard missed the second half of the 2012 season with a left knee injury, and returned to finish 2013 as the year-end No. 1 with 10 titles from a career-high 14 finals.
“I think the match I have the best memory [of] probably is the final of 2013,” he said. “[It was an] important victory for me after a big and long injury in 2012. Being able to win a Grand Slam here on hard courts again was so special for me.”
The 33-year-old Spaniard, who added another US Open title to his collection in 2017, is still going strong 16 years after his tournament debut. Ahead of the season’s final major, Nadal claimed a record-extending 35th ATP Masters 1000 title at the Coupe Rogers in Montreal (d. Medvedev). Since mid-May, he’s won 21 of his past 22 matches and, in the process, became the first player this season to qualify for the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals.
“Of course, arriving to the big events with good feelings helps,” said the World No. 2. “My last events have been win Rome, win in Roland Garros, semi-finals in Wimbledon, and winning Montreal. That's a positive feeling, positive memory on my mind. That helps for the confidence.”
Nadal’s sole loss during that period came against Roger Federer at Wimbledon, but the earliest he could face either the Swiss or defending champion Novak Djokovic would be in the final, with his chief rivals in the top half of the draw.
“I have plenty of work before that to know if I have an advantage or not,” he said of being in the other half. “So let's see if I am able to do my work for my side.”
This year, Nadal is seeded to meet Roland Garros finalist Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals. But his first test will come against Australian John Millman, who scored a big upset last year in New York when he defeated Federer.
Nadal and Thiem played arguably the most memorable match of the 2018 US Open, when the Spaniard claimed a 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(5) victory in a quarter-final battle that wrapped up at 2:04 in the morning. Nadal, who also played lengthy matches against Karen Khachanov and Nikoloz Basilashvili earlier in the tournament, ended up retiring in his semi-final match against Juan Martin del Potro with a knee injury.
“My feeling on the knees are better this year than last year,” he said. “Last year the problem was I played three or four very, very long matches. That's tough...
"I hope to be ready for it. I think I am playing well. I am practising the right way during these days. Of course, winning in Montreal helps. I am ready for the action.”