It’s the long-standing debate in professional tennis.
Is the ATP calendar tougher than it used to be? Are wins harder to come by than they used to be?
Rafael Nadal, two-time Rogers Cup champion in Montréal and the favourite to win again this year, doesn’t claim to have the answers to these questions but recalls that things weren’t necessarily easier when he embarked on the Tour in 2001.
“ At the beginning of my career, there was Roddick, there was Hewitt,” he remembers. “A lot of good players, too. Federer was there. […] Actually, the only thing, the main thing, is that we’re older. In the last year and a half, a good new generation has come, which increases the number of players. But it’s always the same. Players who are playing better have a better chance to win and the others have less. That’s sport in general.”
After returning to tennis after injuries and slumps that made observers question whether they could ever be back on top, Nadal (31 years old) and Federer (35 years old) are respectively—and against all odds—seeded first and second at an ATP event for the first time since Monte Carlo in 2011.
Nadal does not believe that there is a secret to their longevity and says that their love of the game is likely the best explanation: “It’s difficult to say. We really don’t know why. It’s not because players are coming late on the tour because we’ve been here since we were young. The thing that comes to my mind is that we love what we are doing. We keep having the motivation to compete and play tennis and that helps us. Just being professional, doing the right things on and off the court, helps to hold the body to keep playing. If you’re healthy, then it’s much easier.”
Much has been written about the fact that Nadal could regain the no.1 ranking for the first time since June 2014 if he reaches the semifinals this week but the Spaniard is hardly concerned. His current aspirations are far more modest.
“Just be happy. That’s it,” he says. “If I’m healthy, if I’m able to compete well, I’m happy. What I’m doing really makes me happy. I’m here, I’m still playing. If one day I come here and I’m not happy doing what I’m doing now, I’m going to go back home and do something else. It’s easy. I love this sport, I feel lucky to have the chance, at 31 years old, to still do what I’m doing and still have the chance to keep having success. So I’m just having fun every week and this week I’ll try my best again in Montréal.”