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Rafael Nadal says Tiger Woods, who he stands with on a Shanghai course in 2006, is his favourite sportsman.

Nadal On Tiger: 'He's Probably My Favourite Sportsman'

World No. 2 reflects on form entering the European clay swing

Golfer Tiger Woods captured his first major championship in 11 years on Sunday, triumphing at The Masters for his 15th title at that level. You can count at least one fan who was cheering him on from Monte-Carlo: Rafael Nadal.

“He’s probably my favourite sportsman in the world since a long time ago. I’m a big fan of his. It has been tough years for him and I can’t be more happy about the victory of yesterday. You imagine all the processes and all the hard work that he had to do to be back on a golf course. It’s so difficult all the things that he did,” said Nadal, who will chase a record 12th Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters trophy this week. “Finally winning a Grand Slam again, especially in Augusta, probably his favourite one, it means everything for him. So I’m just very, very happy.”

Woods has been made to overcome plenty of adversity over the years. From 2014-17, he underwent four back surgeries to alleviate pain that threatened his career. But like Nadal has throughout his own career, Woods bounced back to emerge victorious on a grand stage once more. 

“What happened during the last year for Tiger is an inspiration for everyone, not just for me. He’s a good example of passion for sport, discipline in terms of hard work and love for the game. That’s what he for sure feels to be back where he is,” Nadal said. “The celebration yesterday when he was walking with his family is one of the moments I will not forget.”

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Nadal is still creating memorable moments of his own, tallying an 11-2 record with his losses coming against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open final and a red-hot Nick Kyrgios in an Acapulco thriller. The World No. 2 did not lose a set en route to the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open. But he was forced to withdraw before playing Roger Federer due to knee pain.

“In terms of tennis, I can’t complain much. Every time that I played I have been in a position to win tournaments,” said Nadal, who added that he has not been frustrated. “Life has been too good for me to be frustrated. But yes, at some point, even if I appreciate all the things that this sport has given me and this life has given to me, sometimes it’s tough to accept when you have problems in a row and this year since the beginning of the season has been tough.

“But I think almost every time I’ve had a chance to be back I’ve been able to be very competitive and I hope to keep my level.”

Listen To ATP Tennis Radio's Interview With Nadal's Coach Carlos Moya:

Nadal is returning at a good time, having won the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters a record 11 times. If the 32-year-old lifts the trophy again on Sunday, he will be the first player to win an ATP Tour event on 12 occasions. That would also extend his record of ATP Masters 1000 titles to 34, with clay-court Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome still to come.

“It’s the start of the important clay season for me,” Nadal said. “I hope to be healthy and I hope to be ready to compete well. This tournament is important for me, and I hope to be competitive from the beginning.”

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Nadal knows that the field is as tough as ever ahead of this clay season. Djokovic is the top seed in Monte-Carlo, clay-court stalwart Thiem is confident after triumphing in Indian Wells, and while Federer is not competing in Monte-Carlo, he is scheduled to compete at Madrid and Roland Garros.

“We can’t predict the future. I hope to be one of them, but you never know. There is a young generation coming, and they are good. They play well on clay too,” said Nadal, specifically noting #NextGenATP stars Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Stefanos Tsitsipas. “Dominic is one of the candidates for everything, especially after winning in Indian Wells. Novak always, of course. Let’s see. Roger is always a candidate, let’s see how he’s able to adapt his game again to the clay after a while without playing on clay. I don’t think it will be a big trouble for him because he has the talent.”

Nadal is not looking far ahead, dreaming of winning a certain title or defeating a specific player. For him, it’s one step at a time.

“I don’t dream much. I just try to go day by day,” Nadal said. “My dream is just to keep playing tennis and enjoying the competition. I don’t think about winning Novak in the US Open or winning Roger in the final of Wimbledon again. My dream now is to try to be competitive from Wednesday and try to play a good Monte-Carlo.”

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