Rafael Nadal laughed when someone described his personality as “serious” and assured that he is much more laid back than the persona he portrays while on the court competing.
The Spaniard, who stormed into the Qatar Open quarter-finals on Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-2 thumping of Dutchman Robin Haase in 65 minutes, has a game face many youngsters must look up to and attempt to mimic – piercing eyes, one arched eyebrow, and a look that ranges from intimidating to chilling.
Serious is actually a tame way to describe it. But as stern as Nadal looks on court, the world No5 insists that’s not the case off it.
“Serious? I am not serious,” the 29-year-old said amidst laughter in his press conference yesterday.
“No, I am serious on court, but outside of the court I am not much serious. I like to enjoy life in general, and I think I’m a hard worker. But at the same time I know how to enjoy my life. The tennis is a very important part of my life, for sure, but is not everything.
“For sure the way that I understand the sport is working and trying to do the right things to improve my game, I think that was one of the keys of my success during all my career, no?
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) January 6, 2016
“And having the right people around me, I receive what I think the right education when I was a kid, the right values. You can be a great athlete or without great values or great education, but I think is easier if you have the right education.”
Prior to the tournament, Nadal said he did things a little differently during the offseason in order to improve his level and after two wins in the Abu Dhabi exhibition last weekend, and two in Doha so far this week, the Spaniard can already see signs of those tweaks taking effect.
“I’m playing more inside the court, losing less court than a year ago. That’s important for me,” he explained. “I am playing with a little bit more confidence on the return and on the winner shots.”
Against Haase yesterday, Nadal was almost untouchable, saving the only two break points he faced, serving at 74 per cent first serves and smashing 16 winners against eight errors. His shots found the corners and lines, and he was standing well inside the court, in command.
Haase tried to be crafty at the net, once prompting applause from Nadal for a drop shot winner, but at no point did the Dutch world No66 appear to be a real threat.
In the last eight today, Nadal takes on world No79 Andrey Kuznetsov, a Russian big-hitter who beat Ricardas Berankis 7-6 (6), 6-1.
“He’s an aggressive player, no? I played against him in Roland Garros last year, and he’s able to produce great shots. He plays fast and he will be a very tough opponent. I know I have to keep playing the same way like today, and I hope that I can keep doing,” said Nadal of Kuznetsov.
Nadal is seeking his first hard-court title since beating Gael Monfils in the Doha final two years ago.
Earlier on centre court, top-seeded Novak Djokovic blasted past Spanish Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2 in 69 minutes to book a quarter-final date with Leonardo Mayer.
— Qatar Tennis Fed. (@QatarTennis) January 6, 2016
Djokovic saved the only pair of break points he faced and broke Verdasco four times to take his winning streak against Spaniards to 17 victories in a row as well as 19 in a row against left-handed players.
Looking ahead to his clash with Argentina’s Mayer, Djokovic said: “I have seen that he has won comfortably both matches here. The conditions are played a little bit quicker, so I think that knowing his game, it’s pretty suitable to his style.
“He plays flat. Has a nice, good slice. Very good movement. He’s very intelligent tennis player. He knows how to anticipate well on the court and serves very well, even though he has a very high toss, but I think he doesn’t make too many double faults. His second serve is particularly good, I think.”
Last match on centre court saw third-seeded Tomas Berdych withstand a second-set fight-back from Bosnian Damir Dzumhur to advance 6-0, 6-4. On Thursday in the quarters, the Czech world No6 plays British 20-year-old Kyle Edmund, who made his first ever ATP quarter-final with a come-from-behind 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (3) triumph over Spaniard Daniel Munoz de la Nava.
Illya Marchenko, the conqueror of defending champion David Ferrer, followed up his big opening round upset with another win, this time over Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-4, 6-2, to make the quarters.