Rafael Nadal got down to work in Paris with a brand new $535,000 watch on his wrist, a burning desire to reclaim the French Open title in his heart and a careful coach sitting on the sidelines.
Nadal’s first port of call after his private jet from Majorca landed an hour late at Le Bourget airport was the opulent surroundings of the Hotel Continental, close to L’Opera, as he answered questions about the special edition Richard Mille timepiece that weighs only 20 grams including the strap and embraces materials used in aerospace technology.
The world no.2, very much a man of habit, will become one of the few contestants to actually wear a watch during his matches. And that is not the only new thing in the Nadal preparation to reclaim the title he has won four times previously.
For Toni Nadal, coach and uncle to the tournament favorite, the sight of his charge struggling with knee problems during and after last year’s defeat by Robin Soderling are still clear in the mind. Consequently there has been a reduction in Rafa’s playing commitments this year and the fiercely patriotic Spaniard even missed the Barcelona tournament a couple of weeks ago.
“We must take care with the calendar and maybe it is better to prepare with prudence, so we shall stop more,” said Toni. “We want to play a lot more years but we cannot play too hard all the years. When you see the Rafael of three, four years ago, he did a lot more running than he does now. His game is not as physical as it was before. This is what we have to accept.”
Nadal’s form has been exceptional throughout the clay court season as he has collected the Masters 1000 series titles of Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid. Uncle Toni could not have asked for any more but he maintained: “I don’t want to say the names but good players, who have been at the top, they have gone down.
“It is the same because every year there are better ones coming, new ones, like [Ernest] Gulbis, [Marin] Cilic. [Andy] Murray arrived two years before, [Novak] Djokovic three years before. Rafael came to the top very young, which was good for us, but at the same time it is a problem because he was very high at 19-20 and you must get better because when you don’t improve, the new ones will make you bad and I know he can do all the things better. We are in this process.”
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