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The Sony Open; Interview with Rafael Nadal; Interview with Chris Evert; Success Runs in the Family

Aired March 21, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET


PAT CASH, HOST: It's the comeback story of the season -- Rafael Nadal is back and the king of clay is talking to OPEN COURT.

Coming up on the show, Rafael is winning titles but reveals he's still playing with pain.

RAFAEL NADAL, TENNIS PLAYER: I still have some pain in the knee.

CASH: OPEN COURT offers you a rare glimpse of the grand slam great enjoying some down time in Mexico.

Plus, a visit to the Evert Academy in Florida.

And guess who's our guide?

CHRIS EVERT, 18-TIME GRAND SLAM CHAMPION: It was all about tennis.

CASH: The 18-time grand slam champ shares her love of the game with the next generation.

And still to come, the Williams sisters, the Bryant brothers -- make way for a new double act -- Aga and Ula Radwanska. See why they are Poland's favorite export.

We're here in Miami, where the biggest names in tennis are competing at the Sony Open. Rafael Nadal will be sitting this tournament out to rest his knee after winning his third title of the year.

But the Spanish matador invited OPEN COURT to Mexico during some rare quiet time.

Here's Don Riddell.


NADAL: I love the beach. I love the sea. All my life I live within -- in front of the sea.

DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A rare sight on the island of Cozumel, a relaxed Rafael Nadal enjoying the sand and surf during a week off the tour in Mexico.

NADAL: It's great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold that, Rafael.

That's great.

RIDDELL: But maybe it's not the setting that's bringing out the smiles at this photo shoot. For Rafael is, of course, playing again. After seven months out with a knee injury, he's back, a totally different man from the disappointed star interviewed by Pedro Pinto as he faced up to the reality of missing out on the chance of another gold medal at London 2012.

NADAL: It was a -- a big goal for me. It was a big emotions always, because it's only one time every four years, because -- because it's the most important event in the -- in the world of sport.


RIDDELL: I caught up with Nadal at this hotel by the sea, the secret aura (ph) resort he now co-owns with his family. Nadal is clearly reenergized, even laughing off my mention of the dreaded "R" word.

(on camera): Did you ever think you might have to retire?

Did it ever get that bad?

NADAL: No. No, I am very fortunate. No, no. And the doctor -- and the doctors never, never told me that.

RIDDELL (voice-over): The 11-time grand slam champion rejoined the ACP Tour in February and played a series of clay court tournaments in Latin America. Tournament organizers, who once had to give tennis tickets away for free, soon found they were holding the hottest tickets in town. Media jammed the press room while fans waited outside in the hope of getting an autograph.

"The Matador" fought his way to the final in Chile and won the title in Brazil and Mexico. He played through the pain, admitting that his knee was never far from his thoughts.

NADAL: I still have some pain in the knee, so I need more time to -- to be -- to be 100 percent confident that everything will be right, that I will be perfect and I will be able to compete at my 100 percent. But that's part of our careers. We are professional athletes. We bring our body to the limit.

RIDDELL (on camera): When you feel the pain in your knee when you're playing, does it affect you mentally?

NADAL: Sure. Yes.


NADAL: Well, you know that sometimes the pain that you cannot control. When you break a leg, you break an arm, you know, you let -- you know that you have, for example, six months. So you prepare yourself mentally. So the first two months, I will be doing this. The second two months, this. This month, this, and instead of six months, I will be -- I will be doing this.

But in this kind of injury, it's a little bit harder because you really don't know what's happening sometimes.

RIDDELL (voice-over): One of the biggest stories to make headlines in 2013 is Lance Armstrong's confession that he doped during his cycling career. The scandal prompted some of the biggest names in the tennis world, including Nadal, to call for tougher anti-doping measures. The International Tennis Federation has responded and adopted the Biological Passport Program. They're also planning to increase the number of blood tests.

(on camera): Now, I've spent a lot of time on CNN recently talking about the bad things in sport, drugs in sport.

How do you feel when this topic comes up again and again?

How does it make you feel?

NADAL: Very bad. Something, you know, you and I -- you and I don't like to talk about it, because it's something that damaged a little of the image of the sport and somebody like, you know, like Armstrong like was an idol for the most of the people who loved the sport. And then you see that was not true, nothing, you know, you know, it's been disappointing, you know. So I think we need to work together in the same direction to change this situation. This is something that I cannot continue like this.

RIDDELL: Are you making plans, if we were to say where do you think you'd be a year from now, where do you think you'd be?

NADAL: Hopefully here again, preparing another tournament and (INAUDIBLE), you know, playing tennis.

RIDDELL (voice-over): That's also the hope of most tennis fans. Many can't wait to see him back defending his French Open title. No one has ever dominated the terra port quite like Nadal. France has lost only one match (INAUDIBLE) during his entire career.

There was only one answer when we asked some top players to name their toughest ever opponent.



JANKO TIPSAREVIC, WORLD NUMBER NINE: Rafael Nadal (INAUDIBLE). Almost a mission impossible for most of us, no matter how good you feel that day, it's -- it's not easy, I promise you that.

RIDDELL: What does Roland Garros and the French Open mean to you?

NADAL: I won, last year, the seventh. So that was just, you know, amazing for me. It's something that I never felt -- I'm very happy about what -- what -- what I did there. It's something that I never -- I never dreamed.

RIDDELL: Of the seven wins, do you have a favorite?

And given what you've been through, would an eighth become your favorite, do you think?

NADAL: I don't know if the eighth would become my -- my favorite. But I don't know if it would -- if it will be the eighth. So...

RIDDELL: You're a positive guy.


NADAL: I am positive but...


NADAL: I am positive, but not that (INAUDIBLE).

RIDDELL (voice-over): While some feared the sun was setting on Rafael Nadal's career, now many have hope that a new chapter is just beginning for the king of clay, just in time for Roland Garros.



EVERT: That's better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, there we go.

C. EVERT: Whoo-hoo.


CASH: See how Chris Evert is motivating the next generation of champions.


CASH: I'm spending a week here at the Sony Open in Miami. Now, many a champion has been produced from this sunshine state, but none greater than Chris Evert.

OPEN COURT jumped at the chance to travel to Boca Raton to catch up with the 18-time grand slam champion.


C. EVERT: I'm not a Steffi Graf athlete. I'm not a Martina Navratilova. I've been -- I'm kind of, I won't say average, but...


C. EVERT: -- but I just was a -- was a good athlete with a lot of hunger. And it worked for me.

Good, no errors.

CASH (voice-over): And it's still working for her. The 18-time grand slam champion, Chris Evert today is totally focused on her current job, teaching the next generation how to be as good as she was.

C. EVERT: No mistakes.


C. EVERT: I'm the worst as far as remembering my results and my record and -- and, you know, Chrissie, how many times did you win, um, the Family Circle Cup?

No idea. Sometimes I don't know that -- recognize that person, you know, because she was so focused and kind of so one-dimensional and just -- it was all about tennis and winning tennis matches and being number one.

And as soon as I became a parent, I realized that life is so much more full and there's so much more depth in life than just becoming number one in the world at something.

CASH: OPEN COURT traveled to Boca Raton for a rare up close look at the Evert Tennis Academy. The operation is a family affair, co-owned by Chris and her brother John.

C. EVERT: Who's your favorite aunt in the whole world?


C. EVERT: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christine and Chrissie.

C. EVERT: Yes.


CASH: John is an award-winning coach who competed at the collegiate level.

JOHN EVERT, EVERT TENNIS ACADEMY: I wasn't strong enough to go on the pro tour.

CASH: But he was strong enough to run a program that attracts young tennis players from around the world.

J. EVERT: Move up to that ball.

Very good.

CASH: Many hope to turn professional. Others are trying to secure college scholarships. John focuses on the technical side while Chris mentors the players.

C. EVERT: It's important in tennis now, it's a power game, to go for winners, but maybe not at the expense of making too many enforced errors. Even like a Serena Williams, when I do her match and I look at the stats, she will make 30 winners and 30 unforced errors.

OK, so most of you guys might make 30 unforced errors and five winners. I still maintain the players that make the least amount of errors at your level are going to -- are going to win.

All right, so are we going to get on the court now?


C. EVERT: Let's go.

Keep working on that slice back in, OK, because that's going to get -- get you out of a lot of trouble.

Remember to keep accelerating. That doesn't mean you have to hit harder, just keep accelerating and make the targets bigger.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you girls making a lot more balls because Christie is watching or because there's a camera on you, or both?

CASH: Many players live at the Academy full-time. When they aren't on the court or doing fitness drills, they are inside this classroom.

C. EVERT: Every kid that -- that is in our program gets an education and every high school student that's graduated from the Evert Academy has gone to college.

J. EVERT: We've got an obligation to these kids and their families and their parents to make sure that they get a great education.

CASH: Lauren Davis moved to the Academy from Ohio three years ago. She's ranked in the top 70 and is part of a wave of promising American stars.

Ten American women are now in the top 100.

C. EVERT: I feel really inspired and really encouraged. In the next two years, I think American tennis is just going to blossom.

I think that you have to give Serena and Venus a lot of credit for the last 10 years. They've dominated women's tennis. And there hasn't really been a glimpse of anybody that's going to replace them.

We miss a generation, but there are a lot of 16 to 21 year olds now that can make that jump.

CASH: And if there's one thing Chris Evert hopes young players can learn from her career, it's best summed up in an article about her which she remembers to this day.

C. EVERT: The first line stays in my mind. It was, you know, she's not the fastest, she doesn't hit the hardest, she's not the strongest, so why an I number one?

And I -- that always left a -- a big impact in my brain, because I -- I think I was very proud of that.


CASH: Former world number two, German Tommy Haas, is a true tennis warrior. Tommy has recovered from injury after injury to be inside the world's top 20 tennis players. Not only that, but Tommy is almost 35 years of age, which is old by tennis standards.

Now, I know Tommy is looking for a hit. I'm sure this weather is not going to put him off.

So I'm wondering how an old tennis player like Tommy will go against a young, fresh-faced kid like me.


CASH: Look it, he's got a six pack. He hasn't got any fat on him. He's -- he looks a little better than me.

I didn't think there was a better looking guy on the circuit than me, but you are.


TOMMY HAAS, FORMER WORLD NUMBER TWO: You've got to have the confidence, right?


HAAS: All right, here we go.

CASH: It's all (INAUDIBLE) cameras. We never had four cameras before.

So at 34, what's it like on the -- still being on the tour?

I know you -- you have a family, as well.

HAAS: Very true. Yes. It's sometimes tough, you know, having a family now. My daughter just turned two and she's four months now and it's tough to be away. I try to get them along to the -- for the ride as much as I can.

It definitely is the best thing in my life, for sure. You know, she's now the reason why I'm actually continuing to play.

CASH: Right.

HAAS: Before, maybe I go platy a little bit with you guys on the -- on the Champions Tour and stuff.

CASH: You're not playing out on my tour.

HAAS: Well, maybe, I don't know. I hope you platy long enough so I get a chance to play you.

CASH: I mean you've had a lot of injuries...

HAAS: Yes.

CASH: -- from the actual fact. I think you may have had more surgeries than me.

HAAS: I'm not...

CASH: I don't know...

HAAS: -- so sure.


CASH: What have you had?

HAAS: I've had a -- two -- three shoulder surgeries...


HAAS: -- two ankles surgeries...


HAAS: -- one head, one elbow. So I'm at seven.

CASH: You're at seven.

HAAS: Yes.

CASH: I've had two -- two back, four right knee, two left knee, Achilles' tendon.

HAAS: So you have one more than me, (INAUDIBLE).


HAAS: I've had some injections pretty much everywhere in my body.

CASH: But you're looking like you can continue to move up. I mean you're back in the top 10, like you were before. Where, I mean...


CASH: -- a little bit of luck (INAUDIBLE)...

HAAS: With a little bit of luck, and you have to play one of the big ones. You have to really be, you know, smart about how you train and then -- and -- and what you do. And that's why you look up to, you know, the people like even Roger Federer, who takes the breaks, you know, and takes his vacations and he is smart about his schedule and, you know, it's a -- it's something to look up to.

CASH: So where did you learn your all-around game from?

What players were your heroes?

HAAS: Well, I mean I grew up watching, obviously, Boris Becker winning Wimbledon in '85...

CASH: Yes.

HAAS: -- was a -- a huge motivation for all us Germans growing up, idolizing him.

CASH: And so you copied his game, his style slightly or...

HAAS: A little bit, you know. I did dive a lot when I was younger on the concrete course indoors.

Good one.

CASH: Thank you very much.

HAAS: Thank you.

CASH: It's so good to see you still playing here. You've got a late career surge.

HAAS: Yes.

CASH: And I wish you all the luck. General election, you're still fit. Look at that.

HAAS: Thanks a lot. Yes. So are you. So are you.


CASH: Still to come on OPEN COURT, the Radwanska sisters, the family business is booming. Both ladies are making waves on tour and giving Poland a reason to cheer. Their story, after the break.


CASH: Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova -- they've all been number one in the world and they all want more grand slam glory.

But is three about to become four?

Right behind them in the world rankings is Aga Radwanska, who's been winning a thing or two, including this title here in Miami a year ago. It was the biggest win of her career.

And as Pedro Pinto found out, success runs in the family.


PEDRO PINTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bigger the stage, the better for Agnieszka Radwanska. She's not only Poland's best ever women's tennis player, she's quickly becoming one of the world's best.

Last year, she took grand slam great Serena Williams to a deciding set as a Wimbledon finalist.



PINTO (on camera): I think I know the answer to this one, but favorite moments on the court this year.

A. RADWANSKA: For sure, Wimbledon final.

PINTO: How tough is it to beat Serena?

A. RADWANSKA: Well, for sure. Now (INAUDIBLE) on fire, so it's very, very tough. It was tough at the Wimbledon final, but she was still playing too good.

PINTO (voice-over): Last autumn, OPEN COURT traveled to Krakow to see Aga's hometown. The Wimbledon finalist trains at one of the city's two covered facilities. And don't bother looking for any grass courts. There aren't any.

Daily practice sessions are a family affair. Aga trains with a younger sister, Urszula, who is also a top ranked tennis player. They've been coached by their father for 18 years.

A. RADWANSKA: Well, it's always great to be back home, even for today. So when I'm -- when I'm landing, it's always one thought that, you know, I want to be home and, you know, sit on my couch and, you know, be in my kitchen.

I remember, also, when we were little kids and we were five or four years old. We had this plastic record and we were playing with a balloon like just over the net.

And we were smaller than the net.

URSZULA RADWANSKA, WORLD NUMBER 33: Yes, because we were so small, so the balls were too heavy for us, you know.


U. RADWANSKA: So we just -- and it was -- we had so much fun with the balloon and it was really great.


PINTO: The sisters are inseparable. Tennis has been part of their lives for as long as they can remember.

A. RADWANSKA: Tennis, it's -- it's a sport that, you know, we really have to, start very early. So, we missed a lot of other things that the kids were doing when they were young. So other kids were playing somewhere and then we were going to the car and we had like 10 minutes to drive to the tennis courts.

But I think it was worth it.

PINTO: The long hours on the practice courts are paying off. Aga is expected to top the $12 million prize money mark this year. Urszula has already made more than a million dollars.

Each visit home is marked with a trip to the town square.


A. RADWANSKA: Now we have our coffees and now we're going to show you our main square. (INAUDIBLE).

U. RADWANSKA: Well, we have like, you know, Sunday off and we are always like coming for lunch or meeting with friends at the -- at the main square. So this is -- it's nice here.

PINTO: And no evening is complete without a few heartsy polish dishes.

(on camera): The food you miss most?

A. RADWANSKA: I miss Polish food. I love Polish food. So, yes.

PINTO: Any kind of specific?

A. RADWANSKA: Well, especially Polish soups are so good. And dumplings are so good.

PINTO (voice-over): It's no secret how proud the sisters are to be Polish. Both represented their country at the London Olympics. Aga was chosen to carry the flag at the opening ceremonies.

A. RADWANSKA: I had the phone call. We -- we (INAUDIBLE) Olympics the question that if I wanted to carry the flag. And I was -- I was so excited. And, of course, I said yes right away.

PINTO: It was a proud moment for the Radwanskas and a big step forward for tennis in Poland. Aga's matches attract big television ratings.

(on camera): Complete this sentence for me, please.

"If I wasn't a tennis player, I would be?"

A. RADWANSKA: Well, surely not a singer, because I can't sing.


PINTO: So...

A. RADWANSKA: So I don't know. It's really hard to say because since (INAUDIBLE) I'm playing tennis so it's hard to say.

PINTO (voice-over): Aga may not be able to hit the high notes, but it's clear she's found her true calling on the courts in Krakow. And for the people of Poland, it's music to their ears.


CASH: Thanks for joining us from Miami.

Next month, we head to Europe, where I'll be dusting off my clay court shoes to take on one of the best dirt bowlers in the game.

You can log onto our Web site,, to read more about Rafael Nadal's comeback and plans for the year ahead.

But until then, it's good-bye from Florida.