INTERVIEW: Rafael Nadal spotlight burns brightly in New York

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Loving the glam life: Rafael Nadal.

No player will have more to prove or be questioned deeper than Rafael Nadal at next week’s US Open.

The Spaniard has entered the stage of his career which all legendary sportsmen fear, being contemporarily associated with fallibility rather than the remarkable feats which elevated him to all-time great status as a 14-time grand slam champion.

As recently as last summer, the 29-year-old was World No1 after a ninth French Open triumph. He was on the coattails of his perennial rival Roger Federer, needing just three more major victories to draw level.

Yet while the timeless Swiss has stylishly sashayed back to his best, Nadal’s game has been in the grip of a downward spiral, a worrying trend not helped by injuries such as the wrist problem which denied him the opportunity to defend his crown at Flushing Meadows last August.

That bitter pill was even harder to swallow given persistent knee problems had also seen him miss the US Open in 2012.

Nadal heads into the impending competition a once-unthinkable eighth in the ATP rankings, and his unsightly third round defeat to countryman Feliciano Lopez last time out at the Cincinnati Masters was no aberration when you consider he has not contested a hard court final in 17 months.

Speaking to Sport360° in an office overlooking New York’s splendid Bryant Park which had been packed hours earlier for an event to celebrate him becoming a global brand ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger, Nadal opened up about his frame of mind.

“Last year was a tough year. After being back to my best level after Roland Garros, I had the wrist injury,” he said. 

“To then get back and have appendicitis immediately made it a tough second part of the season. It made it tough to get back to my level in the year after that. Always, to miss a tournament like the US Open is an opportunity lost – especially when you feel like you are playing well. In 2012, I was playing great and in 2014 I was playing well.

“Those two years I was playing at a very-high level and I did not get the chance to compete in one of the best tournaments of the year and one I know I can do well in. Today is another opportunity and I am here to hopefully do well again. I will try my best.”

Nadal’s fall from grace has taken up as many column inches in the build-up to the US Open as the reinvigorated rivalry between 
Federer and World No1 Novak Djokovic. 

A painful stage is unfolding for a player whose athletic prowess and unbending will once defined his greatness, body and mind currently being his main weaknesses. 

The ‘King of Clay’ used to look invincible behind the baseline, but the sight of him ambling about at the back of court has now become all too familiar. Is his situation a case of him having to mentally accept he is no longer ironclad?

“I think during all my career I did,” he replied.

“I had to accept that in 2005, after having my first big season, No2 in the world and winning a lot of big tournaments. I then had an important injury in my feet and some doctors told me I would not be back on a tennis court as a professional player.

“I have accepted from the beginning I couldn’t be at the 2012 Olympics, Wimbledon 2009 defending my title… All these types of things, have been unbelievable moments but also low moments. Everything is part of my career. My mentality and point of view always stays the same.”

Nadal has endured an annus horribilis in 2015. The die was cast when he suffered a shock three-set defeat to Michael Berrer in round one of January’s Qatar Open, continuing with quarter-final defeat to Tomas Berdych in the Australian Open which ended a 17-match winning streak against the Czech.

And prior to a last-eight reversal to Djokovic at Roland Garros he dropped out of the world’s top five for the first time in a decade with defeat to Andy Murray in the Madrid Open. The shock caused by July’s second-round setback at Wimbledon to dreadlocked journeyman Dustin Brown was not seismic.

– Also: Who is tennis’ greatest? Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?
– Cincinnati: Federer defeats Djokovic for seventh title
– Related: Serena claims another title with victory over Halep

“I have had a tough season, but not a very bad season,” Nadal insisted. “It has not been a disaster. Playing not very well but being at the number I am today [No8 in the ATP rankings] is still something positive.

“I am playing better now than a few months ago, that is the real thing. I am playing better than the results said in the last two tournaments. I am practising well, let’s wait for the right moment to find that momentum [snapping his fingers] which brings you back to the next level.

“I do not know what will happen at the US Open. I feel I am playing better than in other parts of the season. I feel I can play a good tournament. But the competition is full of good opponents – anything can happen.”

Away from the court, New York – already baking in the August heat – is being warmed further by ubiqutious billboards featuring Nadal in just his underwear as part of a prominent Tommy Hilfiger campaign.

The sense of glamour was added to on Tuesday by a tennis match played between Nadal and leading models such as Chanel Iman, Constance Jablonski and Hannah Davis.

“I am still shy with some things, not so much with others,” he joked when asked about seeing his adverts.

“Obviously, I started very young and have had a lot of years being in front of people. When I am shooting that [the underwear campaign] I do not believe it will be on the television. I do it and try to have fun with the people who are around shooting.”

Inevitably when a sportsman shows signs of being on the slide, conversation moves to his plans for when he puts down his racquet. 

Nadal was at pains to declare – as with the current state of his game – there is nothing to unduly panic him for when that day arrives.

“It is something I have no worries [about],” he said. “I think I will be happy without all of this. I like many things in this world outside of tennis. I enjoy the fact I am here today [in New York] and people have an interest in what I am doing. But at the same time, I am from Majorca. 

“I like to be in the ocean on a boat, fishing or swimming. I am building a big tennis academy in Majorca, it is a big investment for me. 

“I have the Rafael Nadal Foundation, too. We are growing, having more and more things to help kids, especially. I have different businesses around the world, which will entertain me after the tennis career.”

Rafael Nadal will appear as the global brand ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger underwear, Tommy Hilfiger Tailored and the new fragrance TH Bold, beginning in Autumn 2015. The collections are available at Tommy Hilfiger stores globally, through select wholesale partners and online at tommy.com.

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#360view: Serena seven away from tennis divinity as Grand Slam beckons

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Cusp of greatness: Serena.

In sport, the word ‘history’ is used almost every single day. Someone, somewhere, is becoming the youngest or oldest or fastest or the very first to accomplish some amazing feat. And a few days later, that feat can be usurped by someone else who is younger or older or faster, or the very first to do it better. Which is why it feels insufficient to label what Serena Williams is on the verge of achieving over the next two weeks in New York as ‘making history’ – her quest for the rare Grand Slam is unequivocally much bigger than that.

Since her early days on tour, Serena has always transcended the sport. She and her sister Venus were not just tennis champions; they broke colour barriers, stood for equal pay, and earned megastar status typically associated with Hollywood not the WTA.

People come down hard on American tennis these days but just as they start to miss the days of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, they remember that Serena is still bossing the women’s tour and has been keeping the torch burning bright, winning 21 majors that spanned three different decades.

She turns 34 next month and heads to the US Open ranked No1 for a 256th week. She is the oldest woman to ever hold that spot. That’s just one of countless records the American has achieved so far. But what she’s gunning for in New York is a whole other animal. Already the holder of all four grand slams at the moment, Williams could capture a fifth consecutive major and fourth of the season at the US Open.

Only five people in history have managed to win all four slams in one year – Don Budge in 1938, Maureen Connelly in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988. Only three have done it in the Open Era. Arguably the hardest feat to pull off in tennis, the Grand Slam is something not even Roger Federer – the man considered to be the greatest of all time – has managed to do.

– Also: Who is tennis’ greatest? Federer, Nadal or Djokovic?
– Cincinnati: Federer defeats Djokovic for seventh title
– Related: Serena claims another title with victory over Halep

Many tennis fans and players of this generation were not alive the last time a Grand Slam was achieved which is why it has a mythical attachment to it and why Serena’s assault on it is the biggest thing to happen to the sport in a very long time.

The stars have aligned in a way where Serena lands in Flushing Meadows not only looking to complete the Grand Slam, but she could also tie Graf’s Open Era record of 22 majors, and she’d be doing it on home soil, at a tournament where she has won six times, including the last three.

The world No 1 could not ask for any better circumstances. Talk of the Grand Slam has taken over in the United States even though tennis barely clings onto a place in the list of top 10 most popular sports there. Want a sign of just how huge a Serena Grand Slam would be in America? She is on the national cover of Sports Illustrated this month, 16 years after the only other time she was on it back in 1999.

If American tennis has been ailing, Serena winning a fourth major in 2015 could prove the antidote. She could provide the spark needed to catch the attention of all the young athletes who overlook tennis and opt for another sport.

The best thing about this Grand Slam story line is that it is actually achievable. Serena is in-form, is on a 21-match winning streak in New York, has lost just twice in 2015 and looks fitter than she has ever been. She won the Australian Open final fighting a terrible bug, and was also very sick during her last two matches at Roland Garros. She’s climbed back from so many sets down this season and by now, she must feel that she can overcome anything at this point.

The fact that everyone feels she can win it is adding intrigue to the plot and while some have their eyes on Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and co, all eyes are undoubtedly on Serena. She is seven matches away from tennis divinity.

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Nadal faces top models at tennis for Tommy Hilfiger

26/08/2015
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Spanish tennis great Rafael Nadal warmed up for next week’s US Open with a star-studded pop-up event in New York’s Bryant Park which launched his global brand ambassadorship with Tommy Hilfiger.

Nadal, 29, is preparing for his Flushing Meadows-return a year after a wrist injury denied him the opportunity to defend his 2013 title.

“I love how this event brings together fashion and sport with Tommy Hilfiger’s signature twist – it was the perfect way to kick-off my partnership with Tommy Hilfiger,” Nadal said. “I’m proud to be launching the new campaign in the middle of New York City with such an exciting event.”

Nadal faced off in several rounds of tennis with top models including Chanel Iman, Constance Jablonski, Hannah Davis, Noah Mills, Arthur Kulkov and Akin Akman, all dressed in custom Tommy Hilfiger looks. Actresses Jane Lynch and Lake Bell hosted the event from the umpire’s seat as the Majorca-native took victory in three consecutive games. 


Rafael Nadal will appear as the global brand ambassador for Tommy Hilfiger underwear, Tommy Hilfiger Tailored and the new fragrance TH Bold, beginning in Autumn 2015. The collections are available at Tommy Hilfiger stores globally, through select wholesale partners and online at tommy.com.









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