Rafael Nadal Talks Training, Staying Fit, and Winning Grand Slam Titles

Rafael Nadal, US Open 2017
Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Like fine wine, Rafael Nadal only seems to get better with age.

Following his first Grand Slam victory since 2014 at the 2017 French Open, Nadal has added another championship to his trophy case.

Nadal took down Kevin Anderson in the 2017 U.S. Open final, giving him his 16th career Grand Slam and third U.S. Open championship. The 31-year-old is once again the No. 1-ranked player in the world following the victory, putting to rest any talk that Nadal is on the last legs of his career.

In fact, at this stage, it looks like Nadal might be stronger than ever.

Nadal caught up with Men’s Fitness back in 2009 and spoke about how he stays in such great shape, his nutritional routine, and what it feels like to win a major. Clearly, whatever he’s been doing has been working.

Your 2008 Wimbledon final has been called the Greatest Match of All Time. Obviously your conditioning is vital to winning most matches, but how important was your conditioning in this particular match, especially in the areas of mental toughness and confidence?

I felt great at Wimbledon last year. Both physically, mentally and happy with the way I was playing. I didn’t know if I could be able to win it but I did know I was feeling great and that I could be ready for everything.

Now that you’ve had time to reflect on it, what is your biggest memory of that tournament?

I have a lot of memories. Especially on the match points and the rain delay.

After winning Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2008 and 2009, you’ve been ranked No. 1 the past year. Has being No. 1, rather than No. 2, affected your mindset on the court, especially against Federer, against whom you were always the underdog?

I don’t think it changes that much to be No. 1 or No. 2 to be very honest with you. It is difficult to be up there and as I say the change is not much. Federer is always the main rival but also now Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

What is a your weekly workout regimen when you’re not playing in a tournament?

It all depends at what period of the season we are talking about. If we are in the pre-season, the gym work is higher. During the season I don’t do much, I prefer to play tennis.

What about during tournament weeks?

Here I do more aerobic types of fitness and clearly play much more tennis on the court.

How about your flexibility routine?

This is very important. This I do everyday. I have my own Physio and he stretches me everyday. This is crucial.

How has your training regimen evolved as you’ve grown from a teenager into a man?

I always had the same physical trainer and I don’t really see the difference from what I did 5 years ago. The biggest difference comes with the kind of work I specifically need for my tennis and the changes I have [made]. But not depending on age.

Do you train specifically for different court surfaces?

Yes. For Wimbledon there are special exercises for the lower part of the body since we tend to be closer to the ground due to the strokes we have to do and the low bounce of the ball.

Why do you think your arms get so much attention?

This is funny, if you look at many other players they are probably fitter than me. The difference probably is that I was playing sleeveless. Now that I carry shirts with sleeves it doesn’t look that different. And also my left arm is much more developed than my right arm. This is because I play lefty and that’s sort of my gym, the tennis court. That’s where I have fun.

What particular exercises do you do for your arms?

Nothing, believe me. Just the normal things any other player, tennis player, would do.

When you flex your arms after a big shot, do you know that it can intimidate your opponent?

I don’t think so. I think that at our level guys don’t get impressed with these things. It is more the running, the speed and the shots that really we pay attention to.

Such a big part of tennis is the ability to recover quickly after a match. What are some of your secrets to recovery?

The stretching is very important and to have good conditioning does help a lot. Clearly getting the right rest is also important. Sometimes it is too short of a time and I really can’t recover fast enough. But that happens to all of us.

Are you concerned that your all-out style of play could limit your longevity in the sport?

For the past couple of years I’ve tried to improve my game, to play more inside the court and limit the amount of kilometers that I run. I think I have been playing much shorter matches in general with the exception of those in Melbourne or even in Madrid. This is important and I think I’m learning and getting better.

We read that during Wimbledon you went grocery shopping and actually cooked your own food. How often do you cook at home?

Only those 2 weeks of the year. I have fun doing that, I like to eat that funny pasta we cook in Wimbledon. I really see that as part of my distraction there, especially in the past years with the rain making it a bit long.

What’s your specialty in the kitchen?

Pasta with shrimp and mushrooms. I’m also good at making cakes.

How strict is your diet? Do you not eat certain foods?

It depends if I am playing the day after or not. I am not that careful in general but those days I am. I try not to eat meat or heavy things. But I do sometimes eat a lot of chocolate and things like that. Clearly I also burn a lot of calories!

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