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Hard work, dedication and ability: Nadal spills his secret to success

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Rafael Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem in the French Open final. Photos: Twitter@ATP

Paris: After lifting his 12th French Open crown, Rafael Nadal has reflected on success, vanity and the personal will to succeed which made him one of the best tennis players of all time.

His gestures were relaxed despite coming after two weeks of fierce competition. Nadal made himself comfortable on an armchair at the hotel he has used to stay every year since his first French Open success in 2005. Here are the excerpts:

Q: Have you had time to read the front pages of today’s newspapers?

A: No, I have not seen anything, I have not had time yet. I am accustomed to reading the news and I see things that come out about me, but I am not a great fan of reading a lot of what is said about me.

I am accustomed to reading headlines and some articles in particular, but not much. Neither when things go badly, nor when they go very well.

What gives me satisfaction is what I have done myself, more than what they could say. The acknowledgment is one of the nicest things one can have.

I have to show gratitude for the affection and the support media has shown me, they have behaved well with me.

Q: What can one do to avoid falling prey to vanity?

A: I think it is easier to fall when you are 19 or 20 years old, when you start. This happens to some people. But at 33, it is not the time to fall for these things.

I have had people around me my entire life and they have transmitted a proper education to avoid it. Luckily, I also have been humble enough or respectful to listen and pay attention to the people who are around me.

Q: Is that humility the only way to win 12 French Open titles?

A: For now, yes, because only I have done it. But there are a lot of ways to achieve success. Not all the best sportsmen in history are humble.

Certainly they are (hard) workers, but some people do not have to be humble to triumph as sportsmen. The necessary thing is work, dedication and ability.

Q: How is your relationship with success?

A: I live it with normally. One of the keys to be able to be where I am is not having big peaks of happiness. Neither to think a big deal of myself nor very little when things do not go the way I like.

I think my emotional state is stable and this helps me to be able to focus on my life and my professional career in a coherent and relaxed way.

Q: Does the fact that you have not abandoned your hometown of Manacor help in that?

A: What helps me is the education I have received as a child and the examples the people around me set.

Q: You have said that this Roland Garros title is special given the difficult moment you went through a little more than a month ago due to injuries. Do you take more pride in the way you get past bad moments than the success you achieve?

A: The thing is that, in the end, personal success is much more powerful than professional success. Personal success is to have the capacity of overcoming complicated moments, to have perseverance when it is difficult.

Roland Garros fills me with satisfaction, of course, but my greatest satisfaction is to have had, during these last five weeks, the will to have an attitude change and to appreciate the little improvements. And I have done it thanks to the support of my team.

Rafael Nadal with his pet trophy.

Q: Have these months, after the Indian Wells injury, been the worst moments emotionally?

A: I do not think it is the lowest moment. It was in 2005 when they diagnosed me with a foot injury and told me that maybe I will not be able to play tennis at the same level as I had done till then.

You get tired from receiving knocks in the form of continuous injuries.

It is not an issue of professional activity. Having continuous pain, too much pain that does not allow you to have a nice life during a lot of time can make you feel down.

Q: Does the fact that you have to get past all this gives you more strength?

A: I have always had strength, thus I have achieved what I have achieved.

But evidently coming out of tough moments makes you strong and helps you in the future to see things with enthusiasm and with a more positive perspective.

Tennis Lounge

Andy Murray eyes return to singles tennis

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The three-time Grand Slam champion underwent a hip surgery in January.

London: Former world No.1 Andy Murray on Wednesday said he hoped to make a return to men’s singles tennis later in the year.

The 32-year-old is set to compete in the men’s doubles with Spain’s Feliciano Lopez at the Queen’s Club tournament in London next week.

“I hope at some stage this year I would be able to get back to playing singles again,” Murray said during an event organized by Amazon in London.

“When that is, I am not really interested in putting a time limit on it because I am quite happy just now so I do not need to play singles after Wimbledon or at the US Open,” he added.

Murray has not competed since he underwent an operation on his right hip in January after the Australian Open, which he had signalled could be his last career tournament.

“I still have quite a lot of work to do before I am at a level where I feel like I will be able to be competitive,” he said.

Although the three-time Grand Slam champion and two-time Olympic winner said he had been practicing with Frances Tiafoe of the United States at the Wimbledon facilities, he has not confirmed his appearance at the grass court major, which starts on July 1.

“It is baby steps just now. I am feeling good, pretty much pain free and enjoying kind of just training, practicing, improving all the time,” he said.

Murray has been crowned singles champion five times at the Queen’s Club, in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016, but never in the doubles.

He has won 45 career titles, including the 2012 US Open, and the 2013 and 2016 editions of Wimbledon.

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Tennis Lounge

Sharapova plans to return from injury at Mallorca Open

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Maria Sharapova is recovering from a shoulder injury.

Palma (Spain): Maria Sharapova plans to play in the Mallorca Open after recovering from a shoulder injury.

“I am happy to be able to announce that I am going to accept the wild card to play the Mallorca Open,” the 32-year-old said in a statement in Spanish on the Mallorca Open website on Monday.

“I want to thank the tournament for the opportunity it gives me and all my incredible fans who have been supporting me in recent months,” the former world number one said.

The Russian tennis player is due to reappear on the grass courts at the tournament after undergoing shoulder surgery in February.

Sharapova has been training for several days at the Santa Ponça Country Club facilities in Calviá.

She will be part of the tournament poster, the only one of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) played in Spain, along with two other former top players — German Angelique Kerber, and current Wimbledon champion and Belarusian Victoria Azarenka.

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Opinion

THE DIRTY DOZEN: REDEFINING MASTERY

Karthik Swaminathan

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Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates his 12th French Open victory. Photos: Twitter @rolandgarros

Rafael Nadal maintains his dominance over clay with a record 12th Roland Garros trophy, beating Dominic Thiem of Austria 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in the final

Toronto: Don’t let that headline above fool you.

Winning a point—just ONE point—in tennis will greatly test your physique and energy levels. You then have to do it at least four times to win a game. Far from over, because you need to win a set, and then—if you are still holding up well and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel—the match. Rinse and repeat with the hope of making progress in the event.

Oh… To those planning to retort, “Hit a big serve, easy, win the point.”, yeah, go on, try it… Get the ball cleanly over the net first, then within the permitted service box, whilst imparting enough speed and spin such that it is out of your opponent’s reach. Is your shoulder still in place? Just checking.

Winning any tournament, therefore, is in itself a huge accomplishment. Might I add that I didn’t even get to entry requirements such as rankings, or the quality of opponents in this ultra-competitive era, one’s own fitness/stamina, etc.

Given its demands, clay court tennis is perhaps the ultimate test for any player.
As is the prospect of facing this chap from Mallorca, who answers to the name Rafael Nadal.

And when you put Nadal on a clay court—let’s say, the final of a prestigious tournament such as Roland Garros—you are up against every possible odd. A gargantuan ask, if there ever was one.

Towering above the competition

Since 1995, twelve different players have won the coveted Coupe des Mousquetaires and reigned on the terre battue. And one of them alone has now won it twelve times. Just by himself. Which, in essence, translates to single-handedly winning a little over 9% of all titles since the first staging of the event 128 years ago (back in 1891).

Roland Garros is, clearly, not just Rafael Nadal’s backyard. And it is much more than just a palace or even a second home. It is his citadel. A fortress so secure that it has been breached only three times since 2005.

And while the three who did manage to write their names are decorated champions themselves, two of them who in fact compete with the Spaniard in the perennial “greatest of all time” debate, they have—more often than not—been forced to bite the red dirt on numerous occasions. The crushed earth is unforgiving and has seen many names fall victim to its demands.

Win / loss records (and win percentage) of the “Big 4” at the French Open:
» Roger Federer 70–17 (80.5%)
» Rafael Nadal 93–2 (97.9%)
» Novak Djokovic 68–14 (82.9%)
» Andy Murray 39–10 (79.6%)
*Please note that walkovers do not count while taking win/loss into account.

If there’s one thing clear while talking about Nadal’s exploits at this venue, it is the undisputed fact that his only opponent is history. Or perhaps just himself. Because only two other legends of the sport have, in the past, made Roland Garros their own but the Mallorca-resident has long since eclipsed both of them.

» Bjorn Borg 49–2 (96.1%) and 6 titles (1974-75, 1978-81)
» Chris Evert 72–6 (92.3%) and 7 titles (1974-75, 1979-80, 1983, 1985-86) and 2 runner-up finishes (1973, 1984)
*Please note that walkovers do not count while taking win/loss into account.

Stratospheric

Such is Nadal’s surreal mastery of the surface that he is a perfect 105–0 in best-of-five-sets matches played on clay when he wins the first set. In other words, to even stand a chance to compete, the opponent must win the first set. But it doesn’t end there because while he lost the first set on just 14 occasions over the course of his career, he has still bounced back to win the match 12 times.

Furthermore, at the French Open, Nadal has been pushed to five sets just two times (R128 against John Isner, 2011 and semi-final against Djokovic, 2013) and none of his 12 finals on Court Philippe-Chatrier have ever gone the distance. In fact, he has dropped just 27 sets across 14 editions between 2005 and 2019. And lest we forget, he did not drop any set in three victorious campaigns (2008, 2010 and 2017).

They call him King of Clay for a reason. Just ask Federer who had this to say after being put to the sword on semifinals day (June 7), “There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him.”

“Tearing up the clay”

When he lost at the US Open in 2016 (l. Lucas Pouille), many pundits and onlookers felt retirement was imminent. After all, Nadal, who had turned 30 that year, had last won a major on his beloved clay two years prior. Between winning the French Open in 2014 and returning to his first Grand Slam final since in 2017 (at the Australian Open which ended in defeat to Federer), he made just nine finals across all events: winning five, of which only two were Masters 1000 tournaments.

‘Talks’ therefore were inevitable. It isn’t without reason that they say writing off a champion is not the smartest of things…

Ever since Federer prophetically stated that his legendary rival would go on to “tear up the clay…” in 2017, following the pair’s faceoff in Miami, the southpaw has gone on to do just that. And how.

Commencing with the 2017 Monte Carlo Masters, Nadal is a staggering 71–5 in clay court tournaments. In the 15 events that he has participated during this stretch, he swept 10 of them—three Grand Slams, five Masters 1000 and two ATP Tour 500—and did not lose a final. What’s even more staggering? None of those five losses came before the quarterfinal.

The final: a mere footnote

And finally, we come to today’s story: poor Dominic Thiem, playing his second Grand Slam final, was firmly shown his place.

The World No. 4 wasn’t new to this stage, having reached the final here last year as well—losing to, yes, that man again in straight sets. While he may have been a year wiser this time around, his punishing semifinal against Djokovic (which stretched over two days) wouldn’t have helped. And yet, the brave 25-year-old fought. After all, he has earned the right to be seen as the second-best clay court player over the last three years.

Thiem, who wields a single-handed backhand, is more Wawrinka than Federer when it comes to style and he knows how to rip the felt off a tennis ball. Heading in to Sunday’s clash, the 6’1” challenger was a respectable 24–5 at the French Open. Three of those five defeats coming to Nadal alone where he wouldn’t as much win a set. He had also beaten the famed incumbent a few times (at the Masters 1000 and ATP Tour 500 levels), that too on clay. But not quite on the clay and surroundings of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Adrenaline and the powers of youth helped Thiem break in the first set, which he’d surrender soon after, and he even managed to sneak the second set. But instead of prolonging the contest, as it might have seemed at that point, it only brought a swifter end. And how: trod on and pounded to a pulp. Nadal barely breaking sweat as he stopped grinding and, instead, upped the aggression.

“I just came from heaven to hell…,” the vanquished Austrian would later reflect. “I closed [the second set] out 7-5… but Rafa stepped on me and that’s why he’s too good.”

Thiem’s 3–6, 7–5, 1–6, 1–6 loss was an encapsulation of the challenges of playing tennis, playing tennis on clay, playing tennis on clay against Rafa, and then playing tennis on clay against Rafa at Roland Garros. Gargantuan in every sense.

‘12afa’, as social media saluted, is surely one of the greatest feats ever; irrespective of the sport. And a lasting testimony to the King of Clay’s other-worldly prowess on the terre battue.

World Rankings as of June 10:
1. Novak Djokovic (Serbia)                             11. John Isner (USA)
2. Rafael Nadal (Spain)                                   12. Juan Martín del Potro (Argentina)
3. Roger Federer (Switzerland)                      13. Daniil Medvedev (Russia)
4. Dominic Thiem (Austria)                             14. Borna Ćorić (Croatia)
5. Alexander Zverev, Jr. (Germany)                15. Marin Čilić (Croatia)
6. Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece)                        16. Gaël Monfils (France)
7. Kei Nishikori (Japan)                                   17. Nikoloz Basilashvili (Georgia)
8. Kevin Anderson (South Africa)                   18. Milos Raonic (Canada)
9. Karen Khachanov (Russia)                          19. Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland)
10. Fabio Fognini (Italy)                                  20. Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain)

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