Nadal pays tribute to a friend and great ri­val

The Herald on Sunday - - TENNIS -

RAFAEL Nadal ex­pressed his sad­ness at Andy Mur­ray’s im­pend­ing re­tire­ment but backed the Scot’s de­ci­sion as the right move for his men­tal health.

“Of course it’s very bad news,” he said. “But when some­body like him, he achieved al­most ev­ery­thing in his ten­nis ca­reer, is suf­fer­ing like he’s do­ing for such a long time al­ready, and you feel that you are not com­pet­i­tive for the thing that re­ally makes you wake up ev­ery morn­ing and go on court with the pas­sion to prac­tise, to im­prove, and with a goal, then it is so dif­fi­cult.

“Prob­a­bly he is fight­ing to keep go­ing a long time. If he doesn’t feel that the thing can go bet­ter, prob­a­bly he does the right thing for his men­tal health.

“It will be a very im­por­tant loss for us, for the world of ten­nis, for the tour, for the fans, even for the ri­vals that he has been part of a great ri­valry be­tween the best play­ers for a long time, and a great com­peti­tor.

“It seems like he had not a very long ca­reer. But he’s 31. Ten years ago, if he re­tired at 31, we will say he had a great and very long ca­reer. We will miss him.”

Nadal was a ju­nior ri­val of Mur­ray and the pair have known each other for 20 years.

“When he was a kid, he was lit­tle bit a bad boy,” said the Spa­niard with a smile. “I al­ways had a good re­la­tion­ship with him. We shared the court in the most im­por­tant sta­di­ums in the world, com­pet­ing for the most im­por­tant things. That’s im­pos­si­ble to for­get.”

Mur­ray was back on court yes­ter­day, prac­tis­ing with Grigor Dimitrov on Rod Laver Arena ahead of a first-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut to­mor­row that could be the fi­nal act of his glit­ter­ing ca­reer.

It will be a strange oc­ca­sion for Bautista Agut, a player known for a gru­elling base­line style who is sure to test Mur­ray’s hip to the max­i­mum. He has never taken a set off the Scot in three meet­ings but ar­rived in Mel­bourne af­ter beat­ing No­vak Djokovic on his way to a ninth ATP Tour sin­gles ti­tle in Doha.

He said: “Ev­ery­body knows Andy. Ev­ery­body knows when he goes on court he gives ev­ery time 100 per cent. I think Andy’s go­ing to fight as he did all his ca­reer. It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence for me to play in one of his last Grand Slams against him so I want to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence.”

The trib­utes con­tin­ued to flow in, in­clud­ing from Tim Hen­man, the man whose man­tle Mur­ray took and then el­e­vated. Al­though the Scot feels he has un­fin­ished busi­ness, Hen­man be­lieves he should have no re­grets.

“When you look at the list of his achieve­ments, start­ing with three Grand Slams, t wo Olympic golds and fin­ish­ing world No 1, there are no greater goals you can achieve in our sport,” he said.

“He has worked in­cred­i­bly hard and, hav­ing seen that at pretty close quar­ters, his devel­op­ment from some­one who joined us at Davis Cup as a 16-year-old and the way his game has pro­gressed and the way he has ma­tured phys­i­cally and men­tal­ity, it has been in­cred­i­ble to watch.

“I know he will be im­mensely proud of those achieve­ments even though he will be dis­ap­pointed at the mo­ment.”

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