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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, May 2, 2021


Fresh off his marathon fight to a 12th Barcelona title, Rafael Nadal gets real about the challenges and joys of the Mutua Madrid Open.

Photo credit: Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell Facebook

Terre battue doesn’t talk, but its message is clear.

Slide marks Rafael Nadal left strewn across the red clay on his namesake court showed the top-seeded Spaniard's mastery of movement, deep desire and a fundamental tennis truth: all title roads lead to Rafa during clay season.

Thiem: Time to Be Back

Last week, Nadal showed ardor and artistry saving championship point at 4-5 in the final set subduing second-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-7(7), 7-5 in a three-hour, 38-minute thriller to win his record-extending 12th Barcelona crown.

Meeting the media at the Mutua Madrid Open today, the 13-time Grand Slam champion reflected on entering his clay-court comfort zone—and revealed why Madrid remains his most challenging clay-court tournament.

Nadal boasts a phenomenal 452-41 career clay record as he launches quest for his 88th career championship, including his 62nd clay crown, this week in Madrid.

"Probably the clay adapts well to my game, no? Of course it's true that I didn't play that much on clay to analyze if this part of the season, this moment on the season works well for me or is just the surface, but looks like is more the surface," Nadal said. "Yeah, I am excited always, playing this part of the season.

"I love the tournaments. Close to home and at the same time we play tournaments that are part of the history of oursport. Personally, I always enjoy playing in Monte-Carlo,Barcelona, here, Rome, and then of course Roland Garros,no? So I am very familiar with all these places. I enjoy it. I keep enjoying. That's the most important thing for me today."

The higher altitude of Madrid makes the Magic Box both an exhilarating and unsettling court for Nadal to produce his peak performance. While his crackling topspin trampolines off the court, quicker conditions also make it more challenging for Nadal to use his dynamic defensive skills to extend exchanges.

Since Madrid moved from hard courts to clay back in 2009, Nadal has captured the Mutua Madrid Open crown four times—most recently in 2017—and has been runner-up on three different occasions.

"Yeah, [it] is the most difficult event for me, everybody knows," Nadal said. "But at the same time is one of the most emotional events for me, playing at home. We gonna have a chance to play with crowd again. So that means a lot tome, no? Super happy to be back here.

"Yeah, in terms of tennis [it] is true that here the situation is alittle bit tougher, no? Less control, more difficult to beunder control in the points.But I had some success here, yeah. I won a couple oftimes. I had some good tournaments. So I'm excited to beback and I hope to be ready to play well. That's the mainthing."

Next week, the 20-time Grand Slam champion will open his hunt for his first Madrid title in four years when he faces either French left-hander Adrian Mannarino or 17-year-old Spanish wild card Carlos Alcaraz, who is coached by Nadal's former Davis Cup teammate, former world No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero.

The reigning Roland Garros champion says he isn't sure how the French Open's one-week postponement to a May 30th start will impact his preparation. Pointing out he adapted well to the first-ever fall French Open in thrashing rival Novak Djokovic in the final, Nadal expects the bigger challenge to come after Paris with shorter preparation for the transition to Wimbledon's grass.

 "I can tell you in one month. I can't tell you now, no?I don't know," Nadal sad. "I mean, I don't see a big difference betweenone or the other thing. For me personally, like, in terms ofpreparation for the tournaments, of course in the past theother way worked very well for me, but last year workedwell and was completely different, no?

"I don't know. I mean, the situation is how it is around the world. The only thing that is a little bit less positive is we have one week less between Roland Garros andWimbledon, no? That's the main issue more than aboutthe preparation, for me personally, for Roland Garros. Idon't think going to make a big change."

One thing that won't change: the passion the 34-year-old Spaniard pours onto the court. Nadal celebrated his marathon win over Tsitsipas last Sunday collapsing to the court soaking up the Barcelona red clay as if it were a warm bath after a long trip.

Nadal said his reaction was an eruption of emotion after a demanding start to the season.

"Well, it was a match of 3 hours, 40minutes against a good opponent. I didn't play much tennis for one year," Nadal said. "I lost in Monte-Carlo. I suffered at thebeginning of the tournament.I worked hard I think mentally to keep going, and I won animportant event for me, an event that means a lot. Was myNo. 12 if I'm not wrong there in Barcelona.

"So have been an important moment for me in some way when you are not playing that often. Was only my third event of the year, and last year I didn't play much. So the feeling to winagain and to win a match like this is always positive, no?Yeah, I mean, I say before I live my tennis career withpassion, and that's the result of the passion when you wina match like this." 


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