Rafael Nadal received a hero’s welcome ahead of his return to tennis action after a rib injury. The 21-time Grand Slam champion has a stunning 20-1 win-loss record heading into his Madrid opener. Elsewhere, Simona Halep was in reflective mood and Paula Badosa’s desire for improvement is illustrative of a champion’s mentality. Reem Abulleil is back with her latest diary.
“Gracias por ser español” or “Thank you for being Spanish” yelled out one of the thousand or so spectators that got to watch Rafael Nadal practice on El Estadio Manolo Santana on Thursday at the Caja Magica.
Everyone laughed, including Nadal, who was hitting with fellow lefty Federico Delbonis of Argentina.
The Spanish 21-time Grand Slam champion was a doubt for the Madrid Open having been sidelined with a rib injury since losing the Indian Wells final nearly six weeks ago. But a late announcement on Twitter on Tuesday saw Nadal confirm his participation, saying he didn’t want the opportunity to compete on home soil to go to waste.
Fans were cheering throughout the practice session, and many looked like they were having an absolute blast as they got to witness their hero up close, feeling reassured with every big serve he hit – a solid indication the rib problem has finally subsided.
A five-time champion in Madrid, Nadal takes a stunning 20-1 win-loss record into his Madrid opener, having kicked off his season with a three-title sweep before placing runner-up in the California desert.
A HEART-TO-HEART WITH HALEP
The world has been a strange and often scary place over the past two and a half years and no environment, profession, or industry has remained unaffected.
The tennis tour is no exception.
Instead of focusing on training, matches and competition, many players were struck with an abrupt realisation that there are so many things way more important than hitting a fuzzy yellow ball over a net.
Whether it’s the pandemic, or the disturbing disappearance of Peng Shuai, or now the harrowing invasion of Ukraine, press conference topics have been different and difficult to discuss, to say the least, and it has led to a significant shift in how tennis players are experiencing the tour, along with a change in perspective.
“It’s tiring in my opinion for everybody and it gives us anxiety,” former world No.1 Simona Halep said on Thursday when I asked her how she felt about this entire period of worry and uncertainty.
“It’s not easy to handle everything and yes I feel that everybody is struggling, not only tennis players, not only the tennis world. I feel like the world is struggling and many people are suffering for one reason or another and I don’t feel that everybody is stable now.”
The 30-year-old Halep was injured last year and came dangerously close to retiring from the sport because she felt she couldn’t get back to the high level of competition she had grown accustomed to as a two-time major champion.
She managed to find the motivation once again and is back on tour after a six-week break with a new coach in her corner in the form of Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ former coach.
The Romanian feels the anxiety of the past two years has probably led to many players sustaining injuries.
“The world is not stable, I have that feeling. So it’s not easy to handle it and anxiety can bring you down most of the time and that’s why probably us players are struggling,” she explained.
“We cannot be consistent that much anymore and also the injuries, I think they are coming from the stress and that’s why you cannot be healthy physically and you cannot perform.”
Is it difficult for Halep to view tennis as a priority in light of everything else that has been happening?
“Yes, I thought at one point that tennis is not that important anymore because of everything that is happening. With the pandemic I was super scared at the start, now the war I was super scared at the start. But it’s something we cannot control,” she replied.
“Tennis means nothing if you think of the problems that the world has now. But yeah, I think we have to live every day and if we’re able to play again tournaments and to do what we love, which we’re very lucky about it, we should profit and just enjoy it.”