Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal reckons he has the body of a 40-year old – despite being 32.
Speaking after his quarter-final win at Roland Garros over Diego Schwartzman on Thursday, Nadal talked about coping with his fitness as he ages, while also contrasting the state of his body to Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
A reporter asked the ten-time French Open champion: “If I can make a parallel with Cristiano Ronaldo, the doctors of Real Madrid published medical results saying that he has a body of 23 years with 7 per cent fat.
“Since you are the same age, how’s your body and what are your tricks to staying in perfect condition?”
Nadal, in reply, said he was happy with how things stand for him fitness wise – even if he believes himself aged beyond his years.
“My body is about 40 years old, but I’m not really focusing on that,” Nadal explained.
“I’m just playing tennis. I’m not really interested by all these things, and I don’t think that – you can’t really know the reality of how old your body is.”
Nadal has had a long history of injuries, but ‘The King of Clay’ is targeting his eleventh Roland Garros title as he does battle with Juan Martin del Potro in the semi-finals on Friday..
“I’m 32, and I’m how I am. I’m happy. I accept my age,” added Nadal.
“I try to adapt to all the changes that the body is going through over the years.
“There are things that are lost and there are other things that are gained, and I’m trying to improve all the time. That’s it.
“I’m happy for Cristiano that he’s 23, his body is 23.”
The 10-time champion needed a downpour on Wednesday evening to rescue him from a deluge of break points, five of which were converted by tricky Argentinian Diego Schwartzman.
Nadal, the undisputed king of clay, had lost his first set at Roland Garros since 2015 and was a break down in the second, but he regrouped during a 53-minute delay.
When the players came back on for half an hour Nadal had rediscovered his serve and found his forehand, until at 5-3 30-15 the heavens opened again.
By Thursday normal service had resumed, the Spaniard reeling off the two points he needed to level the match, and then polishing off two more sets to crush this particular French revolution and secure his place in the semi-finals.
“Of course the stop yesterday helped because it was in a tough moment of my match,” said Nadal.
“He was playing great, and I was playing too defensive. I felt that I was playing a little bit under more stress than usual, and he was able to take control of the point too many times.
“I played more aggressive. I continued the level of intensity that I played after the first stop. And, in my opinion, the match changed.”
Nadal’s serve was picked apart by Schwartzman on Wednesday, but the world number one conceded just one point from his first three service games.
He was inconvenienced by a couple of break points as he served for the third set with 11th seed Schwarztman, a 5ft 7in live wire, refusing to go away quietly.
But, unlike the previous day Nadal’s forehand was firing again and he was the one dictating the rallies.
Schwartzman, a nuisance to the end, forced break points as Nadal served for the match but the 32-year-old eventually wrapped up a 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory to take another step towards title number 11.
In the semi-final he will meet Juan Martin del Potro, who came through a predictably attritional battle with third seed Marin Cilic in four sets.
The pair were locked at 5-5 in a first-set tie break when the rain came, and it was fifth seed Del Potro who took the first two points upon the resumption to draw first blood.
After 22 games without a break of serve three came along at once, two for Croatian Cilic as he took the second set.
In the third Del Potro was broken again early on but then reeled off four successive games to get his nose back in front.
The fourth set went hurriedly with serve until 5-5, when from out of nowhere Del Potro fashioned three break points.
The Argentinian took the second of them and served out for a 7-6 (7/5) 5-7 6-3 7-5 victory in just under four hours.
Afterwards a tearful Del Potro said on courtside: “It’s tough to speak now.
“It has been a long time without a good feeling in my body. I have had three surgeries on my left wrist and I was close to quitting. I don’t have any words.
“It’s so good for my team and my family. I am so proud to be playing tennis. I feel at home here. Merci beaucoup!”
The top seed didn’t have the best of starts at Roland Garros, sneaking just past lucky loser Simone Bolelli in the first round, but was back to his best he won 6-2, 6-1, 6-2.
The 31-year-old will next face home favourite and his old junior rival Richard Gasquet, whom he has beaten 15 times from as many meetings in professional tennis.
“I’m very happy, I played more aggressive than in the first round, so I’m very happy with that,” said Nadal.
“Richard (Gasquet) is a very good friend. We’ve known each other since we were 11 or 12 years old so it will be very special to play again against him on such an important court (Philippe Chatrier) for my career.”
Making a rare appearance on the secondary Court Suzanne Lenglen, Nadal was almost caught cold in the very first game as he was forced to save four break points, but he quickly found his groove and broke for a 4-2 lead.
World number 78 Pella did his best to resist the great Spaniard, saving four set points, but hit a forehand into the net on the fifth.
The rest of the match was totally one-sided, as the 16-time Grand Slam champion finished with 24 forehand winners against an outclassed opponent.