Rafael Nadal feels that a two-and-a-half month break from tennis has set him up for another two years at the top – despite the Spaniard turning 34 on Wednesday. The 19-time Grand Slam champion was unable to pick up a racket for two months as he was forced into lockdown in his apartment in Mallorca – which did not even have a garden for him to train in.
But in a week in which he would otherwise have been expecting to dominate all before him on his way to yet another French Open title, he insisted that he was good for another two years.
Nadal is just one off matching long-time rival Roger Federer’s tally of Slams while Novak Djokovic is quickly closing in on the pair and now stands on 17.
But Nadal will be hoping to extend his total of 19, particularly at Roland Garros which has been rescheduled for September, as he plots at least another 24 months on the ATP Tour.
“My mind was not able to think about tennis,” he said. “I was thinking about the health of the people and the worldwide pandemic we’re suffering.
“I have not got a tennis court at my home – I live in an apartment, so I have only been able to play tennis for the last two weeks.
“I am taking things step by step and the main thing is to avoid injuries.
“I think the longer stops are tougher on the body for the older boys than the younger ones. But at the same time, we have experience and I know how best to prepare.
“But long-term, I hope to go back on tour and play for another couple of years hopefully, and keep doing what I like the most – playing tennis in front of the crowds that I hope can come back.”
Nadal expressed his dismay at the “terrible things” happening in America at the moment and insisted he would not be travelling to the US Open in the current climate.
“Honestly if you asked me today if I want to travel today to New York to play a tennis tournament, I will say: no, I will not,” he said.
Instead, the tennis legend and favourite player of American president Donald Trump has called for calm following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
With all the civil unrest coming against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, he questioned whether tennis should even be considered with the US Open still set to become the first Grand Slam of the year at the end of August.
Nadal joined Roger Federer and other leading sporting figures in posting a black square on Twitter to mark ‘Blackout Tuesday’ in support of minority rights.
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“All the normal people and all the people who want a peaceful and good world, we are against racism, poverty, all the terrible stuff which is happening in this world more often than we would like,” he said.
“When you see all these disasters on the streets, these terrible things, my feeling is ‘that is not the way to protest’. That’s not a good example.
“The situation is critical but I really believe strongly in people and I really believe that we will be able to fix the problems.
“Everything takes time. All the improvements in our story, the human story, have taken time but we are getting there in all ways. To be for everybody the same, for everybody to have the same opportunities, the same rights in terms of being protected.
“Of course it’s not enough. Of course we have to keep working hard to make this world a better place but the situation is what it is. Violence and pandemics like this today create a difficult climate, a difficult atmosphere for the world.
“It’s important to stay with calm, to respect everyone, to live together in peace. I respect every single opinion and every single thing that avoids violence because violence creates disasters.
“There is nothing in this world that is more important than health and living in peace and today we have not got the two things which in my opinion are the most important.
Nevertheless, pretty soon we will have tennis again, and Nadal is worried that there seems to be an unseemly haste to get the sport going again even while the battle against coronavirus is still being fought.
In particular, the 12-time French Open champion criticised the tournament’s authorities for shoe-horning the even into the two weeks following the US Open without consultation.
“I just received the notification that they wanted to move the dates 10 minutes before they made their announcement,” he said. “I was not aware of the situation.
“I tried to talk to them. I encouraged them to speak to the ATP and to work together to make things happen because the situation is difficult. Just by themselves it is difficult to fix the calendar.
“Everyone wants to have their own tournament and I admire the French because they are positive and want to look forward. But today is not one to make your mark.
“We need to come back when we are safe and it can be fair for everyone. We need to have patience.
“We need to be responsible and send a clear message to society and be a positive example on how we need to do things.”
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