Rafael Nadal believes resuming the tennis tour before all travel restrictions are lifted worldwide would be unfair to the players who won’t be able to make it to tournaments.
In a Zoom press conference call with international media on Thursday, the Spaniard was asked if the tennis circuit should restart if there was one country in the world where players still could not travel from.
“I think we have a worldwide tour. My feeling is we need to be clear, we need to be responsible, we need to be sending strong messages and we need to be a positive example for society,” said Nadal.
“We need to understand that we are suffering unprecedented situations, and my feeling is we need to come back when all the players from all the countries of the world are able to travel under safe circumstances. If not, in my personal opinion, we will come back, yes, and I probably will play, maybe yes, but my feeling will be that we are not being 100 per cent correct and I want to see my sport 100 per cent fair and correct, especially under these circumstances.”
'Situation not ideal'
Tennis is currently suspended until at least July 31. Organisers of the US Open and Roland Garros – the USTA and FFT – are still holding out hope for staging their tournaments later this year but Nadal is skeptical about whether their plans will actually materialise.
“I don’t know if we will be playing tennis again this year or not, that’s something that, today, is not worrying me much, honestly. What really worries me is coming back to normal life, and coming back to a healthy life and a healthy situation for most of the people,” explained the world No 2.
Nadal is the defending champion in both New York and Paris. The USTA are considering all possible scenarios for the US Open, including staging it behind closed doors, with no fans, and potentially limiting players to traveling to the tournament with just one member of their team.
“It’s not the ideal situation. If you ask me today if I want to travel to New York to play a tennis tournament, I will say, ‘No, I will not’. But in a couple of months, I don’t know how the situation is going to improve, hopefully it’s going to improve the right way,” said Nadal about potentially competing in the US Open under these circumstances.
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“And I’m sure that the people who are organising the event, the USTA, want a safe event, the same as the FFT, they want to celebrate the tournament if everybody is safe enough. I am confident that they will make the right decisions in the right moment.”
Back on court
Nadal started practicing again two weeks ago, but only for a couple of times per week, and not exceeding 90 minutes per session. He feels confident he would be ready to compete at a high level whenever the tour resumes, despite the lack of match play, but wants to protec his body in the meantime.
“I need to take things step by step. I am trying to avoid injuries, that’s the main thing today. To avoid injuries I need to practice step by step and increase the amount of work every week,” said the 34-year-old.
“I think the last couple of years I learned how to play good tennis without the need to play a lot of matches. I really think that I understand and found a way to be ready to compete at a very high level without playing a lot of matches before. I played a small amount of tournaments the last couple of years compared to the years before, I think it’s all about making the right preparation.
“I am confident that if I have enough time to prepare myself and to organise a little bit my calendar, I’m going to be competitive from the beginning.”
While some believe the current hiatus spells bad news for the older players, who are losing precious playing time before retiring from the sport, others see it as an advantage that could extend the careers of the 30-somethings club.
“I think the long breaks for the older bodies are tougher than for the younger bodies because it’s more difficult to come back to 100 per cent but at the same time of course we have the experience too,” said Nadal. “So I have the experience of injuries I had the past, so in some way we know how to come back.
“I am passionate about coming back on the tour and keep playing for a couple of years and keep enjoying the things I like the most – enjoying tennis in front of a full stadium with the energy of the crowd. I really hope we’ll be able to come back to this situation and enjoy.”
The 19-time Grand Slam champion says his main takeaway from these past few months is not taking things for granted, like being able to spend time with his family and friends.
“Humans have the ability to adapt to situations quick, but at the same we have the ability to forget about the negative things soon when we come back to a normal situation. The only thing that I learned is that we need to try not to complain every single day about stupid things,” said the Mallorcan.
One of the heavily-discussed topics in tennis during the current suspension of the circuit has been the idea of merging the ATP and WTA tours. Billie Jean King, the founder of the WTA, has long been a proponent of having just one governing body for both men's and women's tennis, and her idea has finally received the backing of some of the biggest names in the sport, thanks to a tweet from Roger Federer in April, who suggested it was time the two tours combined.
Nadal, who had been uncertain about his thoughts on a potential merger in the past, endorsed Federer’s post by tweeting: “Hey @rogerfederer. As you know per our discussions I completely agree that it would be great to get out of this world crisis with the union of men's and women's tennis in one only organisation."
Asked about what new information has led him to believe in the merger now, Nadal said: “I don’t have any information about that. It’s just an idea and just a message that Roger left there, and that’s it.
“I support it because I think that working like a single organisation in the perfect world is easier for everything. But that doesn’t mean that we need to play every single event as a combined event.
“The tours can keep working separately but work like in a single organisation. Why not? The feeling is it would be better, and less difficult in terms of organising.”