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Rafael Nadal wants to beat his own record of 81 consecutive claycourt wins

Rafael Nadal completed a haul of a dozen titles at Roland Garros in 2019
Rafael Nadal completed a haul of a dozen titles at Roland Garros in 2019
Shruti Sinha
ANALYST
Modified 25 May 2020
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If any of Rafael Nadal's opponents was hoping for the Spaniard's intensity to diminish as he gets close to his 34th birthday, then they are in for a disappointment. The 19-time Grand Slam champion isn't anywhere close to being done yet; instead, he is talking about beating his own 81-match winning streak on clay.

In a recent interview with Espn Argentina, Rafael Nadal opened up on his illustrious career, his incredible records, and his motivation levels as he gets into his mid-30s.

Ever since he burst on the tour as a long-haired, piratas-clad teenager with bulging biceps back in 2005, Nadal has been a source of terror on clay. Nobody has been able to match the southpaw's iron determination and impenetrable defence, and in the early days that resulted in the Spaniard eclipsing Guillermo Vilas' long-standing record of 53 consecutive matches won on clay.

Rafael Nadal was not satisfied by just breaking the Argentine's record though. He went on to extend the streak to a staggering 81 matches - an unprecedented number on any surface in the Open Era.

It took a highly inspired Roger Federer to end the run in May 2007 (at the Hamburg Masters), a good 25 months after it had begun.

A young Rafael Nadal with Guillermo Vilas
A young Rafael Nadal with Guillermo Vilas

While reminiscing about that incredible streak, the World No. 2 admitted that it felt nice to surpass Vilas - but that it would feel even better to beat his own record of 81 matches.

"I'm sorry but the record for which he (Vilas) is beaten, is nice. If I ever beat the record of 81 games, it would be good."

Someone can beat my Roland Garros record: Rafael Nadal

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Pragmatic as ever, Rafael Nadal knows that nothing lasts forever. And that is why it is hard to ever detect even a tiny hint of smugness or complacency in the Spaniard's words.

Nadal knows that records are meant to be broken, and that it is good to cherish them as long as they last. When Roger Federer first overtook the seemingly impossible Slam tally of Pete Sampras, it was considered an incredible achievement. But then Nadal himself and Novak Djokovic went ahead of the American, which shows the transient nature of sports records.

No matter how spectacular his accomplishment of winning a dozen titles at Roland Garros might be, the 33-year-old feels that someday even that might be eclipsed.

"When Borg was there, we thought that no one would beat him. When Sampras came and won 14 Grand Slams, we said 'nobody beats this'. And we are in a short space of history and three players beat Sampras," Nadal said.
"What I did in Roland Garros is seen as something impossible, but I am convinced that if I did it, another one would come and it would equal or exceed it. I am aware that it is difficult but if I did it, surely another one will come and will do it," he added.

There's nothing better than wanting to improve: Rafael Nadal

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Rafael Nadal became the second oldest man in the Open Era to win the US Open last September
Rafael Nadal became the second oldest man in the Open Era to win the US Open last September

Re-inventing your game is the key to a long and successful career in sports. The moment any athlete stops improving, it spells stagnation - and eventually, doom.

Rafael Nadal knows that better than anybody else, which is why he has always stressed on the importance of continuous improvement.

When you have a resume loaded with glittering titles and spectacular records, it is easy for an elite athlete to lose focus and motivation. But the Big 3 of men's tennis - Nadal himself, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic - have refused to rest on their laurels. Instead, they have opened new doors for the tour by showing how conquering Majors past 30 is very much possible with constant reinvention.

The desire to keep adding to your game and to bring about an element of surprise for your opponents is crucial to keep playing for so long. Without that hunger for self-improvement, even training would become a dull and joyless exercise, as Nadal explained.

"I would not have dreamed, at almost 34 years old, to be where I am. If one does not improve, it becomes boring. One has to look for motivations. And the best possible motivation is to look for improvements and look for daily illusions."

The former World No. 1 also underlined how important it is for an athlete to take losses in their stride. Winning won't last forever, but the hunger and willingness to improve should never stop; as long as that remains intact, everything else can be taken care of.

"One cannot be living of illusions of winning things. Other than that, you know that improvements can help you keep earning things. You know that over the years, some things get lost along the way...Going to train aimlessly is boring. There is no better goal in life than to improve."
Published 25 May 2020, 23:40 IST
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