Rafael Nadal offered a lesson in tennis on the court, then a lesson in humility off it.
Nadal doubted he would be back as world number one again, at least so quickly, but now he is there again he says he does not spend his time contemplating his greatness.
It was hard not to think of Bernard Tomic as Rafael Nadal spoke.
Sure Tomic does not deserve to be in the same tennis breath as Nadal, but when Nadal speaks of not needing a reality check after slipping in the rankings and wondering if he might get back to world number one, Tomic’s supercilious smile and glib line about counting his millions comes to mind.
“I don’t need a reality check. I know where I am. I really appreciate that. At the same time I don’t think much about all these kind of things, no?” Nadal said.
“I just think about try to be ready for the next tournament, for the next practice. I am not thinking all day ‘Oh, how good I am, I’m No. 1 of the world’. No, is not the case.
“I just go day-by-day. I know in sport, in general, the things change so quick. You need to be ready to accept all the challenges ??? today you are here, the next day or a couple of months you are here (high to low). Sometimes you are here and then you are here, like last year (low to high). It’s part of the sport life. The most important thing is just enjoy and keep having the passion and the motivation to keep working hard, to be where I am today.”
Tomic might have just been being flippant when he reacted to missing out on a wildcard for the Open by being more concerned with counting his millions, but he did himself no favours.
Nadal doesn’t spend his time glorying in being number one in the world but Tomic spends his days counting the millions the sport has given him while not being able to make a wild card cut.
Nadal speaks of his keen awareness of a career being over in the blink of an eye or the tear of a hamstring. Tomic has a keen lack of self-awareness, or world-awareness, or perhaps any awareness at all.
It was also difficult not to think of Tomic when Nadal was asked what he would now tell his 20-year-old self if he could.
“I think I was lucky enough to have the right people around me. I believe all the advices I received from my family, my father, my mother, my uncle, the team, I really believe I had the right people around me. I don’t think I needed myself 20 years ago,” he said.
Plainly the people around them and the quality of the advice as young men is one thing that has separated Bernard from Rafael as players.
Nadal finished last year as the world number one player and needing a break to rest his aching body. That meant he started back in training later and thus was delayed in being ready to start match practice.
So, unlike his normal practice he started this Open without a warm-up match. Instead he had Victor Estrella Burgos, his first round opponent, as a form of warm-up to what is to come.
Estrella Burgos, from the Dominican Republic, is a dogged player. He is ranked 81 in the world, but on the Open’s opening night he provided Nadal with a match that was more important for the time on court it gave the world No.1 than for the possibility of defeat.
Nadal was feeling out his body and his game more than his opponent, examining his forehand and serve, ticking off his court coverage and how his grumbly knee would cope.
“If I do months without playing an official match it’s always a little bit more difficult. But I started with positive feelings. That’s the most important thing for me now. Of course, there is things to improve but the thing that I need to improve, the matches will give me that things, no? Victories are the most important thing now.” he said.
Looking across the net at the hard-working 37-year-old might have given him some comfort but at 31 himself, Nadal has been increasingly aware the end is getting closer.
“I know this is not forever. I want to enjoy all the moments that I have the chance to spend on this historic stadiums,” he said.