By Romi Cvitkovic
NEW YORK, NY (March 4, 2013) – In town to participate in the BNP Paribas Showdown as part of World Tennis Day, Rafael Nadal spoke candidly about his return to the hard court, the “worst part” about his rehabilitation and thoughts on his upcoming schedule. (Full presser gallery at bottom)
Arriving in a room full of media and distinguished guests, including 2013 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductees Cliff Drysdale and Charlie Pasarell, Nadal went for a more dressed-down look in a Nike hoodie and cap.
As Nadal began answering questions, I noticed a new demeanor and focus in him. Despite sometimes being overly-critical or even agitated at post-match press conferences, today Nadal smiled more freely and carried himself with an air of pure joy. He just came off of a title-winning week in Acapulco and truly feels “lucky” to be back on a tennis court and playing competitively again, and it translated in his attitude today.
Nadal admitted that the first half of his 2012 season before injury where he won four titles, including Roland Garros were “the best first half of a season in my career … it was difficult that I could not keep playing (because of) my knee.” Those tough days made his return even sweeter as he smiled that he’s “very excited to be back on the Tour. Last week, I started to feel much better in Acapulco. I started to feel free to run for plenty of balls and that’s fantastic for me.”
Nadal will next travel to Indian Wells, CA for the BNP Paribas Open and is eager to take on the competition there for the first time on the hard courts since his return.
“We will see how the knee answers better next week in Indian Wells when you play an official match. That will be a big test for me. Today I know that I can play on clay – that’s a very important thing to know, for me. I will try next week on hard. I think it’s a process. After a long time without playing tennis, it will be a process to adapt mainly to the competition. I hope I will have chances to play a normal calendar as I did in the past years.”
So, just how difficult was the time away from the court for Nadal?
“ When you are at home working every day at the gym with rehabilitation, with the doctors, and you try different treatments, and you see not the best result possible in a short period of time … it’s not easy to accept sometimes … I think was not an easy time, but at the same time, I had the chance to be with my family, friends. I tried to do different things that I usually cannot. It was tough. Every day you work, every day you wake up, every day thinking ‘How will the knee be today? Is the knee still bad?’ … I didn’t know when I would be back, that was the toughest part.”
Nadal also re-iterated that it’s difficult to plan his schedule much in advance these days any more, as he takes everything “day by day” gauging the pain and feel in his knee. With the BNP Paribas Open starting this coming week for Nadal, it will be a true test to see just what his knee can withstand.
By Maud Watson
Party in Prague
When it comes to the elite team competition in tennis, 2012 will forever be remembered as the year of the Czechs. Tomas Berdych and Petra Kvitova got the ball rolling with their victory run at the Hopman Cup in January, and they played their parts in helping the Czech Republic to end the year in style as Fed and Davis Cup champions. It was the Czech Davis Cup team that completed the trio of championships, which was no small feat with power house Spain standing in their way to the title. It was a true team effort by the duo of Berdych and Radek Stepanek. Each won a point for singles and teamed up to secure a crucial point in the doubles to defeat Spain 3-2. As with other top players in the past, the victory will likely help Berdych continue his upward trend. He’ll be able to draw on the experience of coming through in a clutch five-set win in the second rubber to draw even with Spain on the opening day of the tie. But the bigger moment of the tie belongs to Stepanek. He’s never enjoyed near the same amount of success as game’s greats, so coming through in the decisive fifth rubber to seal the deal is likely to be the crowning moment of his career. It was a phenomenal effort by the Czechs, and going forward, they’re going to be a tough out for any nation.
Dissension in the Ranks
Spain’s loss in the Davis Cup final left a bad taste in the mouth, and it had nothing to do with the defeat that they’d been dealt at the hands of the Czech Republic. Instead, it came from within the team itself, and the bulk of the blame lies primarily on the shoulders of Feliciano Lopez. It was ultimately Nicolas Almagro that came up short in the singles, and his teammates did little console him after his two heartbreaking losses. But the fact that this team wouldn’t quite gel was made evident by F. Lopez’s comments before the tie even began – comments that may have played a part in Almagro’s nervous play as he likely felt the need to justify his place on the squad. All credit to Captain Corretja, who stood by Almagro and declared he’d pick the same four guys if he had it to do all over again. It was instead F. Lopez who was left with the most egg on his face, as he attempted to backtrack and smooth over his previous comments. This was an ugly loss for Spain, and Corretja is going to have a bit of work to do in order to mend fences and prepare a team for a 2013 Davis Cup run.
American tennis took another hit this past week when the Farmer’s Classic held at UCLA was discontinued, and its ATP sanction was sold to a group in Bogota, Colombia. It was tremendous loss as the historic event dated back to 1927 and saw many of tennis’ greats grace its courts, including Laver, Ashe, Sampras, and Agassi. But in recent years, the event struggled to find solid sponsors, the fields became less star-studded, which led to lower revenues, and therefore resulted in the difficult realization that the tournament needed to be sold. It’s a blow to tennis in that region, and it also means one less opportunity to expose young American sports enthusiasts to the game. It’s a worrying trend for American tennis, and one organizers at all levels of the game in the United States need to reverse, and reverse fast.
The brainchild of StarGames President Jerry Solomon and the ITF, World Tennis Day is set for March 4, and there’s some tantalizing tennis on offer. As has been the case the last few years, there will be some entertaining matches at New York’s Madison Square Garden, with Azarenka playing Serena Williams and Nadal facing del Potro. But also on that day, on the other side of the world in Asia, Li Na will compete against Wozniacki, and even Lendl and McEnroe will renew their rivalry. More star-studded matchups may be scheduled, as the hope is to hold several pro events around the world and tie them to grassroots programs in order to grow the game. They couldn’t have picked two better markets in which to stage the events, with the matches likely to continue the forward momentum of tennis in Asia and with any luck reverse the downward spiral the game is enduring in the United States. So here’s to hoping this initiative is not only a success, but the start of many more successes to come.
Arguably the biggest question in tennis for 2013 is what will happen with Rafael Nadal. Video footage surfaced earlier this week of the Spaniard practicing on hard courts, and you can be sure he’ll give everything he has to be ready to go when the season gets underway. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a player with more grit, determination, and drive. Still, it’s hard to predict how he’ll fair. When we last saw Nadal, he’d suffered his worst defeat at a major when he was bounced out of the second round of Wimbledon. A rejuvenated Federer took back the No. 1 ranking and had a very successful summer. Andy Murray upped his level to claim Olympic and US Open glory. Guys like Ferrer, Berdych, and del Potro stepped up to the plate with statements of their own, with de Potro in particular looking like he might now finally be ready to crash into the Big Four. And then Nadal’s most troublesome nemesis, Djokovic, capped off a good year with a strong autumn and finished No. 1. Granted, some of these events were potentially helped by the absences of the Spaniard, but that won’t take away from the confidence these players have gained through those accomplishments. Nothing is impossible when it comes to Nadal, but on anything outside of clay, when you take stock of what has transpired in the second half of 2012 and add it to his extended layoff, it appears likely that Nadal will find it trickier to find his footing than he did when he returned from injury in 2009. But no matter what happens, we all look forward to seeing Nadal and the rest of the competitors duke it out for bragging rights in 2013.