By Fernie Ruano, Jr.
ATP No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the top-seeded men’s players at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis at the Tennis Center in Crandon Park in Key Biscayne, wants to make something very clear:
His motivation is greater than ever, he doesn’t intend to loose grip on the top-ranking and Miami, not retirement, is the only thing on his mind. “My motivation right now is Miami,” said Nadal, who opens his attempt for a first-career Sony Open title tonight against Lleyton Hewitt. “That’s my motivation, but nobody can go thinking about the future.”
If a recent All-Access session in any indication, Nadal plans on adding to his ATP Masters 1000 (26) and Grand Slam (13) title collection, and isn’t hanging up his racquet anytime soon. The 27-year-old Spaniard – always a fan favorite in Miami – recently answered everything thrown his way.
You're obviously motivated for every tournament, but this one you haven't won. It's one of the few places. Does that give you extra motivation? You'd like to notch one more tournament you haven't won before?
RN: Yeah, sure, I would love to win here any year, but it will be not fair if I say yes. I would be lying to you. When I am playing a tournament, I always try my best in every one. So when I go on court, I try my best in every tournament, in every match. I'm going to do it the same here, no?
Hopefully I will have a good few days. I hope to be competitive tomorrow. Never is easy the first round, especially when you play an opponent like Lleyton, and especially when he already played a match, so it will be tough battle.
Is it a little different playing in Miami than other parts of the you States because people are in the stands with Spanish flags, people are speaking Spanish, and you have a lot of fans here?
RN: Yes, you know, is it different because there are a lot of Latinos here, so that makes the tournament a little more special for us. But I really feel the love of the people in a lot of places here in Miami, almost in every one that I played.
I cannot say nothing bad (about) Cincinnati and especially Indian Wells. I love it. And for sure in the US Open. So I feel, you know, really loved from the people of America. So nothing to say against that, no? I really enjoy a lot playing here in America, but is true with all the Latin communities, it's really special.
Describe the feeling of what it's like to compete against Lleyton Hewitt, and does he remind you of yourself more than anybody else in terms of a competitive spirit?
RN: Well, I don't know about that. I think he's a great inspiration for a lot of players after winning a lot of things as he did, and having a lot of physical problems he's able to keep competing with unbelievable spirit, great motivation. He's able to come back after important injuries.
So that's a great example for the rest of the players. I am happy to see him playing well again. Hopefully not tomorrow (smiling). But, yeah, he already won a tournament this year, so it will be a tough match for me. I need to play well. I'm going to try.
Another question about Lleyton. Does it help in a way to have an opening match where it's against a high‑profile player who is very fired up and excited after his win yesterday? Does it give you more motivation than when you're playing in an opening match that it's going to be so competitive and exciting against a fan favorite and so on?
RN: I prefer an easier opponent (smiling). But that's what there is. I cannot choose the draw. It's going to be a tough one. But at the same time, he's a player that you can play ‑‑ we are going to play rallies from the baseline. It's going to be a hard one.
But the good thing of playing these kind of matches is that if you are able to win, you will be in rhythm for the tournament. Against the players that I played last week, Stepanek or Dolgopolov, even if you win, you feel that you are not playing the point the way you want to play.
So different history.The good thing is if I am able to play a good match tomorrow and win, probably I will be confident and in rhythm.
Rafael with everything you’ve been through in your long career what is your motivation to keep playing at this point?
Tennis is not everything. The most important thing for me is to be happy. For me really, the most important thing is to be happy. I’m happy and content playing tennis, being with my family, being with my friends; Tennis is something that makes me feel good and makes me happy. I’ve certainly been playing for a long time, so it’s an important part of my life obviously for more than 20 years, but I know it’s not something that is going to last forever and I want to take full advantage of advantage of the years I have left, whether it’s three, four, five or six years I don’t know. I just want to enjoy and appreciate whatever time I have left.