By Leighton Ginn
The Rafael Nadal seen Friday night during his pre-BNP Paribas Open press conference was a little different from what we’ve seen from the Spanish superstar over the previous years.
Always charming and self-deprecating, the Nadal on Friday seemed a little surly. He was professional, and thoughtful in his answers as he always is. But there was a little salt to his responses that is common for other people, but can be jolting coming from Nadal.
It was Nadal’s first time back in the U.S. since his surprising run to the Australian Open final after years of various injuries. And he produced a classic battle against Roger Federer that people can’t stop talking about.
“We talked enough. I almost don’t forget about it,” Nadal said, which in the past he would deliver with a self-deprecating tone, but this night had an edgy tone.
It is the first time where media in America could ask Nadal about his Uncle Toni, the figure who has coached and directed his career. Uncle Toni announced he would no longer coaching Nadal following this year.
That announcement came with tremendous speculation.
“Well, I talked enough about that, too, no?” Nadal said tersely to start off his answer.
But Nadal did elaborate on his answers and gave his typically positive responses.
On the Australian Open run, Nadal added, “It was a great moment for the promotion of our sport. It was important because (there were) a lot of expectation about this match. For me, personally, to be part of it was great again. For sure I want to win, but overall I felt happy to be back on a big match like this.”
Nadal and Federer will go down as perhaps the greatest rivalry in this sport, and many feel the Australian Open will be a signature moment. Federer rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the fifth set for a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory, increasing the Swiss star’s record haul to 18 Grand Slam singles titles.
“(It) was a moment that we will remember. I think is something that gonna be part of the history of our sport,” Nadal said. “I enjoyed the match, and I think the fans, too. So was a great moment.”
As for his Uncle Toni, there seemed to be a bit of a tightrope. With Toni guiding him, Nadal went on to win 14 Grand Slam titles, tied for second most with Pete Sampras. At Roland Garros, Nadal would become the King of Clay as he won nine titles in 10 years.
It was Uncle Toni that started Nadal and shaped him as a player.
“First thing, I played tennis because of him,” Nadal said. “If not, (I) would never play tennis. Will play football. That’s what I was doing when I was a kid, too.
“I practiced with him, only with him, until 12 years old. A big part of my success is because of his help. And like a person, it’s always when you spend a lot of hours with one person and it’s part of your family have an impact in your personality or in your education.
“It’s obvious that Toni had a big impact in all of the things that happened to me in terms of education and in terms of tennis, too.”
Nadal returns to the BNP Paribas Open, where he has gone 48-9 and won the title three times (2007, ’09, ’13). And the conditions at Indian Wells suits Nadal, as the hard courts are typically slower than others across the tour.
However, Nadal did hit why he might not have seem like himself, admitting he has been battling illness.
“I was a little bit sick two days, so I couldn’t practice for two days,” Nadal said at the end of the press conference. ” I start to practicing yesterday for the first time. Today, I practiced again and today I have doubles.
“But is obvious that when you get sick you lose a little bit of the power for a couple of days. So I hope to recover myself good and feel myself ready to compete at the highest level possible. I know I am playing (against) Guillermo Garcia or Guido Pella (in Sunday’s second round), and that’s all what I can say now.”