Former champion Rafael Nadal spoke to the Australian press today to discuss his outlook on the first Grand Slam of the tennis season.
Q. To be at the best level you can be, is it a question now of fitness or match toughness?
RAFAEL NADAL: Is a question of everything to be ready, to feel yourself confident, to feel yourself that you are 100% competitive. Always you need to play more matches than four or five in seven months. That’s a thing that everybody knows. At the same time you feel in better shape physically when you are play matches, when you have confidence about your movements. Even if you practice a lot, then the competition is different. The stress of the competition is different than the practices, no? So is a question of time and work. I am working big-time.
Q. Do you feel it’s getting better and better with your practice?
RAFAEL NADAL: I am doing lot of practice and doing the things that we believe we have to do to recover our level. Is true that having a Grand Slam that early in the season after injury like this not the ideal thing. But here we are. I worked a lot since 10th of December. I worked a lot last couple of weeks in Abu Dhabi and Doha, then here this week. I am with calm and happy the way I did the things. Then I need to play better than what I am doing. I think that thing is sure. But I know to play better, I need to win matches. I need to spend hours on court competing. The only way to make that happen is to be on the tour. So I am on the tour, and that’s the only way I can come back to my best level.
Q. You’ve had to do this a few times before because of injuries. Does it help now that you’ve done this before, you know what it’s like coming back after a break?
RAFAEL NADAL: Every time is different. Every feeling is different. Every time you come back, you have the doubts, you have the feeling that you are far away from your best. But at the same time you know the only thing you can do is play with the right attitude and try to have the right schedule to play matches, to play weeks in a row. It’s the only way to find the positive feelings and the confidence back. When you have put all the things together, it make your game better again. That’s what I am doing. I am trying to do the calendar that will be better for me. Playing here, then playing on clay, that helps me physically, in terms of tennis, too. That’s all, no? Difficult to say more things. The only thing I can say is I need to play better, yes. But the only way to play better is to win matches.
Q. How close to 100% do you feel?
RAFAEL NADAL: I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. In terms of what?
Q. Out of 100%?
RAFAEL NADAL: 100% of what?
Q. Of your best form.
RAFAEL NADAL: Of tennis?
RAFAEL NADAL: In the end is difficult to say 50%, 55%, 20%. Doesn’t matter. This kind of thing is impossible. Is not mathematics. You never know when you are 100%. The only thing is I know I need to work, spend time on court, play matches. When that happens during few months, I know in terms of being competitive, in terms of rhythm, I will be ready again, no? But if I am able to win matches in a row before these few months, I’m going to be ready earlier, no? That’s what happened in 2013. But I started on clay, tournaments that give me the chance to play more matches, 250 tournaments. This time a little bit different. At the same time the only way is winning matches and spend time on court.
Q. You said Brazil is a lucky place for you. How do you feel about the Rio Open? Too much play, too many people with Carnival?
RAFAEL NADAL: I hope not to have too much time for Carnival (smiling). Well, no. I have been in Brazil a couple of times. 2005 was the first tournament victory of a big season. 2013 was a special one, because after a lot of months without winning, without competing, I had a chance to win the title there. Helped me for the confidence for what happened later, no? Last year was important one, but was different situation. This year is a little bit like before, no? Going to be the first tournament on clay after a long time ago. I hope will be a good moment for me to have the full confidence back.
Q. Which aspect of your game are you happiest about as you’re returning to form? Which part is going well for you at the moment?
RAFAEL NADAL: Nothing (smiling). No, I am not serving bad. My serve is working more or less well. I need to be a little bit more dynamic on court with my movements. I am a player who find the confidence when I am able to defend well, when I am able to hit the ball knowing that the ball going to go in most of the times. So that’s when I feel myself strong. As I say before, no, to make that happen, you need to do that on the competition. For example, last week in Doha I did a very good thing in the first set, played very good first set. But then, you know, I lose the intensity on my game, I lose the rhythm, something that normally never happen to me when I am competing two weeks in a row. That is something you need when you didn’t play for a long time. I don’t know about in which part of my game I’m more happy. But I really know what I have to do to be happy with my game. My game is always good when my movements are good, when I am able to have control of the point with my forehand, and always hitting good backhands. But the forehand need to be aggressive, need to create space with my forehand. That’s the way that I need to play to have my chances back on being competitive against everybody.
Q. Who do you think is the favorite for the tournament?
RAFAEL NADAL: You know the same like me who is the favorite for the tournament. I think everybody thinks the same names. Novak finished the season great. He is a fantastic player. He’s in his favorite surface. Roger is the same story. Had a great season last year. He finished well. Plays in his favorite surface, or one of his favorites, grass and here. And Andy I think is playing well. We’ll see. The rest always are there. There is a few more players that always going to have the chances. But between these three names, it’s a big chance.
Q. Four names, your name?
RAFAEL NADAL: No, I don’t consider myself one of the favorites here. Last year, yes. This year is a different story. Would be lying if I say I feel that I am ready to win today. I don’t feel myself ready to win the tournament here today. If I am here in a press conference in one week, maybe I will say another thing because will have the feeling that I will play few matches, and if I’m able to win that couple of matches, then probably I will have little bit more rhythm, I will have more confidence. But in theory, playing four, five matches in seven months, you cannot be a favorite of a tournament that is not clay, is on hard. Is another thing. In terms of being favorites, the other names are more favorites than me at this time.
Q. Are your backhand wrist injuries completely over?
RAFAEL NADAL: I don’t know. I don’t know. I cannot say is completely recovered because that can happens when you compete, when you put your back under stress. Can come back, no? Is something that I not 100% confident yet. If you talk about my knees, I say, Okay, can happen, but I am confident about my knees because are working very well. But my back, I don’t have enough time having good feelings to say I am 100% perfect, no? I need to take care about this for the moment. But hopefully will be fine.
Q. You said you don’t see yourself as a contender for the title, but there must be a large part of you that must be delighted to be here competing.
RAFAEL NADAL: Sorry?
Q. Must be nothing better for you than being here playing. That must give you a good feeling.
RAFAEL NADAL: No, at the end, as I say before, the only way to arrive to the tournaments being one of the favorites, being a real candidate is being here. Without being here, there is no chances. So I know that I am in the right way because I am here, first thing, and because I am with very high motivation to recover all the things that I didn’t have the chance to do. The last seven, eight months, more or less. So here is a big motivation. Here, Australia is a tournament I really like a lot. Even if I have a lot of injuries in my career, in this tournament, I always had a great feeling here. And I hope, I really hope, that this will be a good start of an important year for me. I am enjoying every day here. I hope to be here more days.
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