As predictable as Rafael Nadal’s success on clay are his on-court routines: arranging his bottles exactly, picking his shorts and tucking his hair behind his ears before every serve. But the 34-year-old Spaniard, who last month equaled Roger Federer’s record of 20 majors, says he’s no slave to rituals.
“I’m not superstitious; otherwise I would change the ritual with each defeat,” Nadal told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera during an interview.
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“I’m not even a slave to routine: my life changes constantly, always around; and competing is very different from training.’
“What you (the interviewer) call tics are a way of putting my head in order, for me who is normally very messy. They are the way to concentrate and silence the voices within. In order not to listen to the voice that tells me that I will lose, nor that, even more dangerous, that tells me that I will win.”
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Last month, Nadal achieved the extraordinary feat of winning 13 French Open titles: the most by any player at a major. It’s a record, his peers and the larger tennis community believe, is as invincible as it is incredible.
But the Spaniard recalls a time when all of this seemed very, very far away.
“At nineteen, I had just won my first Roland Garros, they told me that I would no longer be able to play, due to a deformity in my left foot,” the left-handed Nadal said.
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“The pain was so great that I trained to hit the ball sitting on a chair in the middle of the court. Then I recovered, thanks to an insole that changed the position of the foot, but inflamed my knees.”
Through his career, Nadal has had to suffer to chronic knee injuries. The toll a hard court puts on the joint only making matters worse.
But he has soldiered on to win 20 Grand Slam titles– five on the hard courts of Melbourne and New York– and finally caught up with his great rival Roger Federer, who is also five years senior to him.
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“With a positive mentality. By transforming the fragility of the body into moral strength,” he said philosophically about how he has succeeded consistently despite the injuries.
“Sooner or later things will fall into place. We must equip ourselves to resist. Because there is no other solution than to resist.”
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Nadal will compete at the Paris Masters, starting on Monday. He has never won the ATP 1000 event at the indoor courts of Paris-Bercy.