Rafael Nadal (right), Novac Djokovic and Maria Sharapova visited the Saadiyat Island ahead of the Mubadala Tennis Championship.
Rafael Nadal insists he is not focused on chasing Roger Federer’s record Grand Slam haul, but admits it would be “amazing” if he manages to eclipse the Swiss star’s tally of 20 majors won.
Nadal’s heroics in 2019 saw him capture a 12th Roland Garros and fourth US Open and the Spaniard is now just one Slam shy of Federer’s men’s all-time record.
At 33, Nadal became the oldest year-end No.1 when he secured that position last month, following a tremendous season that saw him scoop four titles on tour, along with the Davis Cup crown for Spain.
“Happy to achieve these things, but I would love to have five years less,” Nadal joked with reporters in Abu Dhabi on Thursday ahead of his 10th appearance at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition.
“It has been a little bit of a magic year because it had been a good start, but then I went through a couple of very hard months in terms of injuries.
“Then I came back and I came back well. I started to play at a very high level again. I enjoyed a lot of great moments on court, very emotional ones, Roland Garros, Rome, then New York, that final was amazing, and then of course ending the season with that Davis Cup title on home soil, so an unforgettable experience to finish that way.”
Nadal’s Davis Cup participation meant he had to finish his 2019 season later than usual - on Nov.24 - and the Mallorcan says he just started hitting again a week and a half ago in preparation for 2020.
He will get a taste of where his level is at when he takes on either Karen Khachanov or Chung Hyeon in the Emirati capital on Friday, before resuming his pre-season training back home ahead of the Australian summer.
Asked if usurping Federer is a main target for him moving forward, the top-ranked Nadal said: “I can’t say yes because honestly I just work on my diary basis. I have to do my things the best way possible and then to just give myself chances to keep being competitive at the highest level possible.
“So if that happens, great, if not, I just gave my best all my career to be in the position that I am today. And obviously of course, increase the number of 20, or tying 20 would be something amazing, but I cannot complain at all.
“I’m super happy the way I am having my tennis career, I gave my best all the time and I’m proud about the way I worked and the way I enjoyed the tennis during all these years.
“So I just really believe and hope that I can keep having the chance to keep going and keep having fun and keep giving myself chances to compete at the highest level.”
Meanwhile, Federer also says the notion that an older athlete could harm his or her status by hanging around too long is nonsense, no matter what the decline looks like.
“I don’t think the exit needs to be that perfect, that you have to win something huge ... and you go, ‘OK. I did it all.’ It can be completed a different way, as long as you enjoy it and that’s what matters to you,” Federer says.
“People, I don’t think, anyway, remember what were the last matches of a John McEnroe, what were the last matches of a Stefan Edberg. Nobody knows. They remember that they won Wimbledon, that they won this and that, they were world No. 1. I don’t think the end, per se, is that important.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that he isn’t as competitive as ever or doesn’t want to win a 21st major championship -- above all, No. 9 at Wimbledon, after it slipped away despite two match points in 2019 -- or his first Olympic singles gold at the Tokyo Games next year.
Or win any tournaments, for that matter, which would push him closer to Jimmy Connors’ professional era record of 109 trophies (Federer has 103).
He’s still good enough, after all, to be ranked No. 3 - having spent a record 310 weeks at No. 1, he is currently behind No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 2 Djokovic - and to go 53-10 with four titles this season.
If it seems as though the rest of the world is insisting it needs to know when and how retirement will arrive, Federer says it’s not something on which he expends a lot of energy.
Not anymore, anyway.
“I mean, I don’t think about it much, to be honest,” Federer says. “It’s a bit different (now) that I know I’m at the back end of my career. But I feel like I’ve been toward ‘the back end of my career’ for a long, long time.”