Rafael Nadal has revealed that he found it "difficult to keep going" after lockdown last year and deciding to make his return to tennis was "not an easy decision".
The 34-year-old was one of the most high-profile players to miss out on the US Open last summer as he delayed his return following the suspension of the ATP Tour due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
He has regularly spoken about the difficulties faced around the world due to the pandemic and has offered support through his foundation, the Rafael Nadal Foundation.
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Reflecting on the challenges of the last 12 months after winning the Laureus Sportsman Of The Year award for a second time, he told the Telegraph: “It has been a tough year, I really believe, for everyone.
"If you are not completely arrogant, everybody needs to be less happy under these very difficult circumstances around the world, no? Because you have a lot of people suffering, a lot of people have lost a family member, a lot of people are losing their companies, their job.
"For me, personally, it has been tough. It was difficult for me to keep going after the lockdown. The circumstances made me think about what was the right decision for my career: if I keep playing, or stop for a little more? It was not an easy decision.
"So I missed the US Open last year - that was tough, but it was a decision that I needed to take. And then I just played Rome and Roland Garros. Finally, I was able to have success there."
Nadal made the quarter-finals in Rome in 2020 and then won Roland-Garros for a record-extending 13th time to move level with Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles.
He also won the Laureus award in 2011, but says this time it is more "unexpected".
"Every one is special, no? I don't know if it's the most emotional for me, but this is probably the most unexpected.
"For me personally, it was not an easy year. I don't think it is a good thing to stop the body dramatically like we had to do for two months. We had lockdown, then when you come back – especially with older bodies that have [clocked up] a lot of kilometres – it is difficult to do so at the highest level. But I really believe that we managed it well.
"Here we are in Madrid competing again. I didn't play many tournaments [this year], only Australia before Monte Carlo. Every decision is respectful under the circumstances. And for me I make decisions thinking about my happiness, more than anything else. That's why I'm not playing that much. But I have developed the competitive spirit that I had when I had been playing [more]."
Nadal, who is playing Alexander Zverev in the Madrid Open quarter-finals on Friday, has the chance to move ahead of Federer and become the all-time Grand Slam leader at Roland-Garros later this month.
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After winning in Barcelona last week he will start as a strong favourite in Paris, and he believes a blend of qualities have helped him enjoy such success on clay.
"If you don't have a long career, then it's impossible. The same if you don’t love the game, if you are not passionate about the game. Then you are not able to improve the things that you need to improve. That’s how you stay competitive, because the sport is changing all the time.
"I hate to talk about me in that way, but of course to repeat the title for these 13 times, in some way you need to be a little bit better than the others in that tournament. Because if you are equal, it's very difficult to be lucky enough to achieve all this.
"Winning titles, for me, has always been difficult. And today for sure is even more difficult, because at the age of 35, normally it is more difficult to win titles than when you are 25."
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