Rafael Nadal, along with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, have dominated the men's tennis tour for more than a decade and a half. The 34-year-old Nadal has amassed 19 Grand Slam titles, been year-end World No. 1 on five separate occasions, and holds the record for the highest number of titles at a single Grand Slam event - 12 at Roland Garros.
Nadal's achievements, paired with his massive popularity off the court, have made him a global sports icon. And the last Spanish tennis player to have been that before him was Arantxa Sanchez Vicario - who, in a recent interview, had words of very high praise for her compatriot.
The comparisons with Rafael Nadal are nice: Arantxa Sanchez
Speaking to Eurosport, Sanchez Vicario claimed that Rafael Nadal is a true fighter, and that the reasons for his popularity are similar to her own.
"Rafa! He's a fighting person, like me," Sanchez Vicario said. "We never give up on the court, we have that winning character, he is an excellent player and an excellent person, a champion!"
Sanchez Vicario is a former World No. 1 player in her own right, and a four-time Grand Slam champion in women's singles. She also won six titles in women's doubles and four in mixed doubles.
Sanchez Vicario is most fondly remembered for her hard-fought rivalries with Steffi Graff and Monica Seles, and she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2007. She talked about how she got a lot of attention from the media because of her achievements, something that Rafael Nadal is enjoying now.
"I started to appear on the covers of newspapers, they gave my games on television, Spain collapsed following a 17-year-old girl who was capable of anything," Sanchez Vicario said. "Now Nadal monopolizes everything, but it is also easier because there are many more means of communication."
She further went on to say that she feels a sense of privilege for being able to popularize tennis - particularly women's tennis - in Spain, before acknowledging her comparisons with Rafael Nadal.
"The comparisons with Rafa are nice, of course, I think we were both benchmarks on our circuit and we helped put Spain on top. It is a satisfaction that people value your work," she said.
Rafael Nadal is the favorite to win the Roland Garros again this year: Sanchez Vicario
During the course of the interview, Sanchez Vicario was asked about the French Open, a tournament where she enjoyed a considerable amount of success herself. The Spaniard spoke about how the conditions in May-June and September-October are markedly different in France.
"It changes a lot, starting because the days are shorter, there are fewer daylight hours, although this year they already have a roof on the main track. The bounce of the ball will not be the same, but it is still clay," Sanchez Vicario said.
However, she didn't mince her words when asked who the favorite for the men's singles title is.
"There are very few players who can compete with Rafa in these conditions and I am sure that she will be the great favorite again to lift the champion title," Sanchez Vicario said.
Doubts continue to abound all over the world about Rafael Nadal's presence at this year's US Open, given the travel restrictions and safety issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Spaniard is more or less confirmed to be at Roland Garros, having already been seen practicing extensively on clay. Nadal has also confirmed his presence at this year's Madrid Masters, which is set to begin a day after the US Open final.Published 28 Jul 2020, 02:46 IST