‘An important part of my life is leaving too,’ says emotional Rafael Nadal in this week’s issue of The Sunday Times Magazine.
The world No.1, 30 years old, has spent the past 18 months living away from home in order to make a point. He hopes to be the first athlete to complete a three-round, three-set tennis match without a set in both legs. He has left his girlfriend, his family and, most crucially, his country.
At the start of a news conference with the Serbian Prime Minister, Boris Tadic, to announce the challenge, a reporter asks whether Nadal believes ‘the whole world can make a change’. ‘I hope the whole world can make a change,’ the star tennis player says. ‘I hope not,’ replies Tadic. Nadal replies: ‘My dream is to be the first tennis player in history to win a match in three sets without a single set in either of his legs.’
The match-ups are not the sort Nadal would have considered when he set out to play as a single underdog and find a path to the greatest tournament on the circuit, Wimbledon, in all four of its grass-court tournaments, where he will play in his first Grand Slam tournament, the Wimbledon Championships, since 2005.
But Tadic’s decision to stage the final in Serbia on Friday, before Wimbledon, is based on one simple principle: he refuses to play players who have not reached the last eight in their respective tournaments. Nadal, who is ranked number one in the world, is the first man to complete the feat.
If Nadal wins his first title of the season at Wimbledon and completes the feat at the Hopman Cup in Australia next month, he will become the first player to win four Grand Slam tournaments in a calendar year.
In that sense, he is now in a class with the great footballers: David Beckham, and David O’Leary, the former captain of Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney.
It might appear that Nadal is taking on the greatest challenge of his career. But to win at least Wimbledon, which he feels he has the power to take, is a prize worth fighting for.
Nadal, who has not played at Wimbledon since the 2004 championships, lost his place in the draw because of the