Rafael Nadal, one of the favourites to lift the Ion Tiriac trophy, appeared before the media on Monday in a press conference room packed with journalists ready to listen to the four-time Mutua Madrid Open champion. The Mallorcan is back at a tournament that has a special place in his heart and, since arriving on Thursday, he has been the centre of everyone’s attention.
“I always feel special affection, not just this year. I never tire of thanking everyone, all the people here in Spain. They treat me very well all over the world, of course, but I do not receive the welcome I get in Spain anywhere else”, explains Nadal when asked what it means to play in front of the home crowd. “Playing in front of them is special, it is a unique feeling. It is difficult to describe how you feel when you play against people who have helped you to win matches in the past. For me it is another opportunity to play here for another year, I am happy about that. I know it is not the dream draw but I have been doing well since the start of the year and playing at home is always a bonus”.
His fans will have to wait until Wednesday before they can see him on the Caja Mágica clay. His intention was to play his opener on Tuesday but he decided to delay it because of an ear infection: “It is the first time it’s happened in my life. It is a little annoying and it gives you a headache, sometimes a little dizziness, but today I’m a little better than yesterday and I’ve been training well for two and half hours”.
Despite the ear problem Nadal is in good form and is coming off the back of two titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. “I’m happy with the start of my year, not just with the start of the clay season. I think, in general, they were good months. What I did in Monte Carlo and Barcelona is great. But we are here for another tournament, it is different and important, especially for me because it is always special to play at home again”, he explained.
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic arrive here in a very different frame of mind. The top two seeds have had an inconsistent start to the season, although, to Nadal, this means nothing for the rest of the year: “Perhaps they haven’t had the start they were looking for, that’s for sure, but I have no doubt they will be up there fighting for all the big titles from now on and until the end of the year. We have to be ready for that”.
While he awaits his opener, Nadal continues to train on the Caja Mágica courts as he seeks to keep improving, among other things, his second serve, which has been planned since the start of the season. “It’s something that we’ve had in mind, to have a bit more pace in the second serve. It seems to be working and I think I’ve been serving very well all year”, he explained, while adding that the most important thing is to look for motivation: “You simply need goals, training for the sake of training would be monotonous, it makes no sense”.
The Balearic Islander works with Toni Nadal and Carlos Moyá, who is with him for the first time at the Mutua Madrid Open and Nadal is full of praise for him: “This year we have Carlos on the team. That has been very important but at the same time it is true that Carlos is a person that I and the team know well. It was not a big change. It was an incorporation. It is a positive thing, everyone is happy with him and I am more so than anyone”.