Hero’s welcome for Rafa
“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.
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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.
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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.”
- 'I have the fire back' - Halep reinvigorated after first win under coach Mouratoglou
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Ons the psychologist?
With more and more emphasis being placed on the mental side of sport and mental health in general, it’s no surprise that many players are being drawn to psychology as a field.
World No.10 Ons Jabeur, who has her sports psychologist Melanie Maillard with her this week in Madrid, hopes to study psychology one day and joked with reporters about giving them free therapy sessions.
“Do you want a session?” the affable Tunisian said with a laugh.
“I learn a lot from Melanie obviously. I like psychology a lot, maybe if I wasn’t a tennis player I would be a psychologist. Not sure which field but maybe one day I’ll have a degree in that, it’s something I’ve always loved.
“And the most important thing for me is to help people and this really helps me to understand people and to kind of help myself at the same time because I try to even learn more and [learn] how to make the world better.”
Looks like Jabeur’s post-retirement plans are sorted!
It’s never enough
It’s often said that true champions are never satisfied and that seems to be the case with Paula Badosa.
Paula Badosa à Madrid en 2022
Image credit: Getty Images
The Spaniard is celebrating a career-high ranking of No.2 in the world this week but can’t help herself from immediately starting to think of chasing the top spot.
While Iga Swiatek’s four title-winning streak has given the 20-year-old Pole a healthy lead at the summit of the rankings, Badosa admits it’s not easy taking a minute to celebrate her own rise to No.2 before setting her sights on loftier targets.
“The thing is that in my case, my personality is a little bit like that. I always want more. And I remember talking with my coach and asking, ‘Can I be happy some day and enjoy it? For at least one week?’” the Spaniard said with a chuckle.
“Because I always want more and more and more. And now this and then it's not enough. But I think it's part of the personality of every player. It's not only me.
“When you are playing at this level, everyone is very competitive I'm trying to enjoy it a little bit for one hour a day.
“I just try to stay calm and to enjoy where I am. Because in my case it has been a very tough journey. And to get here... I'm still young because I was top 10 at 23. It's still young.
“If you compare to other players, then no, but I have to focus on myself. Still it has been a very long one and I've been through a lot, so I want to try to enjoy it.
“We only live once and maybe I'm not here anymore in a few years. You never know, so I want to enjoy this moment.”
Badosa joked that Swiatek, who withdrew from the Madrid Open citing a right shoulder injury, will have to pull out from a few more events to give anyone else a chance to win a trophy.
“She's winning every tournament, so I feel very far (from No.1),” laughed Badosa.
“She has to retire from a few more events. It's far, but it's nice that I'm No.2. Let's see in a few months if I can fight for that position.
“But even being in this position is already a privilege. Let's see, maybe I'll have to wait until next year, because this year is going to be complicated.”
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