Last few months haven´t been easy for the former world no.1. A knee injury in Wimbledon has kept him away from courts since last June. He wasn’t allowed to even run or jump for the most part. So he did what every logical person would do, started playing poker.
Seven months was a long time to be “caged in” for a highly competitive sportsman. Nadal had recently signed with Pokerstars as sports ambassador and the unfortunate injury gave him the time to learn how to play poker and practise both online and offline. He started inviting friends over to his magnificent home on the Mediterranean island of Majorca.
“I learnt to play poker. I did not understand the game, and now I understand it I see it’s fun, competitive. You need to have self-control, to measure times in which you can attack or defend,” he says in a recent interview. And it has paid off for him, he won his first online poker tournament last January.
Poker isn’t the only new hobby of Nadal which requires self-control. When asked about his golf game and if he will chase a professional golf career after his retirement, “I don’t feel that good,” Nadal says. “If someone comes up to me at 18 and says he wants to be a tennis pro, I’ll advise him to try but tell him he probably will not make it. At 27, 31, 32 or 33, when my (tennis) career ends, I will not have the opportunity to become a golf pro. I will improve my handicap, but to be a professional you need to start as a child.” It means The King of Clay won´t be following the footsteps of Andy Murray´s coach and a former world number one Ivan Lendl, who persuaded a professional golf career after his retirement and didn’t do as good as he was hoping.
Since his return to the courts after being out of the ATP tour for almost 7 months, Nadal already won three tournaments, including an Indian Wells win, and lost the fourth one at the final. Despite his 8 Monte Carlo titles and 44 wins in 45 matches, he states that he is not the top favourite to win that tournament this year. “My only fear, and of course I am still scared, is about when I may get to feel that the knee is completely strong again, 100 per cent,” he says, but he tries to stay optimistic “I have to think positive, I cannot think that I’ve forgotten how to play tennis in seven months,”
Now, however, his poker hours may have to be cut back a bit. Rafa will be playing at Monte Carlo, Roma, Conde de Godó in Barcelona and Roland Garrós to claim the world number one position which he reluctantly left in the summer of 2011.