Rafael Nadal: Team Europe warrior
Amid a banner season at age 36 in a career that has already been stamped as legendary, Rafael Nadal says the key to his golden success is no secret: Hard work pays off.
“Without dedication, nothing is possible, especially at this point in my career,” says Nadal, who added to his major title tally earlier this year with wins at both the Australian and French Opens – totaling a record 22 Grand Slams.
“It’s about discipline going into each day on the practice court – and in the gym – and I think I’ve managed it quite well to still be dedicated and professional and still do things professionally,” the Spaniard adds. “Every time the challenge is more [and] I hope that I will be ready for it.”
Nadal is readying again to suit up for Team Europe, but this time as part of a never-seen-before lineup with rivals-turned-teammates Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray.
Among them, they have captured 66 major titles, a dynasty that has endured since Federer’s breakthrough Grand Slam major singles title at Wimbledon in 2003, aged 21.
“It’s going to be unique – this has never happened and will probably never happen again,” he says. “It’s a special week in a special atmosphere. How can we work together as a team? We need to play in a way that’s going to earn us a win.”
Nadal, never one to gloat, explains that while history may be on Team Europe’s side, the challenge across the net will be fervent from Team World’s younger lineup.
“We have been part of our sport’s history for the last 20 years, without a doubt,” Nadal says of himself, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. “It’s true that we are older, too. The numbers that Team Europe have are amazing, but we still need to compete and play. On the other side of the net are great players who are trying to win their first Laver Cup.”
The venue is familiar to Team Europe, with the ATP Finals being held in London’s O2 Arena for the past decade. Nadal is a two-time finalist in that event; Federer, Djokovic and Murray have all captured the crown.
“The O2 has seen a lot of tennis the last 10 years. It’s an incredible place,” says Nadal. “I think the atmosphere will be amazing. We expect a huge atmosphere and to have good fun.”
How it’s going
Nadal started the season winning 21 consecutive matches, including an unexpected 21st major crown at the AO while also winning titles in Melbourne and Acapulco. His success was all the more astonishing given Nadal had been battling a chronic foot problem a few months earlier.
While he failed to win a clay court event in the lead-up to Roland-Garros, Nadal was undeterred in claiming an astounding 14th French Open before making a run to the Wimbledon semifinal, only undone by a torn abdominal muscle.
Team World’s Frances Tiafoe used an inspired effort to beat Nadal at the US Open in four sets in the fourth round, leaving Nadal with a 38-5 record overall for the season leading into Laver Cup 2022.
On playing Laver Cup
While Nadal is famous for his full-throated effort on every point, the tour veteran is acutely aware of the unique Laver Cup atmosphere, particularly with the likes of Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud cheering him on.
“I always enjoy playing team competitions, without a doubt,” he reflects. “I haven’t been able to play on a team as much as I would like. It’s so special. When you share a victory, a loss, happy moments, low moments – things are better. Better than when you are by yourself.”
He says of his side: “We are excited to play together. We are looking forward to spending a week together in a positive team spirit.”
But why has Team Europe been so successful? And what makes the Laver Cup format so different from other events in the sport?
“The secret is that we’ve played better,” he says. “Though, a couple of [years] have been very, very close. The way the Laver Cup is scoring is very dangerous. Even if you start well and you think you’re in control, the last day anything can happen. When you start not well and seems you’re in tough position, on the last day, if you can win those matches, you can still take it. That makes the competition very special, very emotional. Even if you’re in the advantage, you know that every match is going to be a battle and that anything can happen.”