Rafael Nadal says he feels “privileged” to be playing in this year’s Australian Open as he called on his fellow stars to have a “wider perspective” on the mandatory quarantine period ahead of the tournament.
The Spaniard, like every competitor from overseas, is having to isolate with his support team for two weeks after arriving in Australia, with practice time limited to only a few hours a day. He’s doing so in Adelaide, with a number of other high-profile stars including Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.
However, following a number of positive Covid-19 tests on chartered flights into Melbourne, Nadal’s experience has been different from the 72 players not allowed to leave their hotel rooms for the duration of the isolation in the city which will host the first grand slam of the season.
A number of competitors in Melbourne under strict quarantine have complained about their situation and lack of practice time ahead of the tournament. It has also raised questions among some as to whether those in Adelaide are getting preferential treatment.
Whilst Nadal appreciates the situation is far from ideal, especially for those under tighter restrictions in Melbourne, he urged players to have a “wider perspective.”
“I feel very sorry for all of them but when we came here, we knew that the measures were going to be strict because we knew that the country is doing great with the pandemic,” Nadal told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday
“It’s normal to complain […] but on the other hand you see how many are dying around the world. You see how many people are losing their father, their mum, without having the chance to say goodbye.
“It’s a real thing, not a philosophical thing, that’s real life. That’s what’s happening in my country. Close people to me are suffering this situation.”
Australia has recorded 28,777 Covid-19 cases to date, with 909 virus related deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, Spain has had 2,593,382 confirmed cases with 56,208 deaths.
Australia has managed to keep levels of the virus relatively low after implementing a number of strict lockdowns last year, allowing much of the general public to be living without harsh restrictions.
Tennis Australia has been unapologetic about the strict bubble put in place around players and Nadal credits the organizers for making the event possible as he reminded players to appreciate the sacrifices the local community took last year.
Melbourne was under a hard lockdown for 111 days with many unable to leave their homes for extended periods of time.
“It’s a different situation than usual, it’s much more sad for everyone,” Nadal added. “But at least we’re here, we’re going to have a chance to play here. The world is suffering in general, so we can’t complain.”
“I feel that we are privileged people today, having the chance to keep doing our jobs.”
On breaking all-time record
Organizers have ensured all players will have the chance to play in warm-up tournaments ahead of the Australian Open, which could prove to be a momentous occasion for Nadal.
The 34-year-old sits level with Roger Federer on 20 major titles, needing just one more to break the all-time record.
Federer withdrew from this year’s Australian Open last month – the Swiss has not played in a tournament since reaching the semifinals at the 2020 edition, after getting arthroscopic surgery in his right knee.
But Nadal says he’s not obsessed about passing Federer nor by being the best.
“I did much more than what I ever dreamed in my tennis career,” said Nadal. “It would be amazing for me to win one more.”
“But I know that will not be the key for my happiness in the future. It’s not extra pressure and it’s not an obsession.
“I keep going, doing it my way. If it happens, fantastic, but if not, I’m more than happy about everything that happened to me.”
Despite their ferocious rivalry on court, Nadal says he has nothing but respect for his close friend Federer and it appears the feeling is mutual.
After watching Nadal beat Djokovic in last year’s French Open final, the Swiss tweeted: “It is a true honor for me to congratulate him on his 20th grand slam victory. It is especially amazing that he has now won Roland Garros an incredible 13 times, which is one of the greatest achievements in sport.”
Nadal, who has been a major part of the recent golden age of men’s tennis, says competition with Federer, and later with Djokovic, has kept him motivated through the many years on tour.
“I think we always had a good relationship, a lot of respect. We did beautiful things together and important things for our sport,” he said. “We push each other to be better.
“To have somebody in front of you that’s doing a lot of things better than you, it gives you a clear way about what you need to improve to achieve your goals.”
Life after tennis
Nadal, who married his long-term girlfriend Mery Perello in 2019, says he has no plans to retire soon but is not worried about life after his playing career is over.
He has his foundation and tennis academy to focus on and is looking forward to one day settling down with a family.
“If kids come, then there’ll be a change,” he said when asked whether married life has changed anything on tour.
“[It’s] something that probably will happen in the future because both of us want it.”
For now, the world No. 2 is just focused on the next competition and on improving every day on the practice courts.
He’s also keen to continue using his platform for good, especially in a time with so much grief and division.
Last year saw an emergence of high-profile athletes using their voices to call for societal change and Nadal is aware of his responsibility as one of the most famous tennis players in the world.
“For us, in my personal opinion, it’s mandatory to be a positive example for society,” he said.
“It’s important to send the right messages to the world and especially to the young people.”
The Australian Open is due to begin on February 8 after being delayed for three weeks.