“Age doesn’t help, but Nadal never ceases to amaze” – Horacio Zeballos knows what’s the Spaniard like in comebacks
MELBOURNE – Ten years ago, the whole tennis world was talking about Horacio Zeballos. In February 2013, in the coastal city of Viña del Mar, Rafael Nadal came back on tour after seven months of inactivity due to injuries and reached the final easily. There he met the Argentine, who played the best match of his life and achieved what few can tell: beat the Spaniard in a final on clay.
Zeballos, therefore, speaks with the experience of having had to deal with a Nadal who returns to competition. “Like Federer, like Djokovic, Nadal have shown that he can stop and come back with inhuman achievements,” Zeballos says during an interview with CLAY in Australia.
That final, on February the 11th, 2013, was more than tight: a 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 win in which Zeballos launched dozens of sharp, slow slice backhands down the lines, a game that especially bothers the winner of 22 Grand Slams.
History has shown that every time Nadal has returned from injury, he has done so with a hunger to win, followed by success. Will this be the case again for the 36-year-old after his Australian Open injury?
“He gets injured and then wins I don’t know how many more Grand Slams. Age does not help things to be the same as 10 years ago. Seems difficult for him to return to the top level he has shown for so many years, but he never ceases to amaze us. Let’s hope he comes back strongly”, the left-handed player born in Mar del Plata believes.
The Argentinian is these days one of the most regular doubles players of the lasts few years, and lives a different life than he did a decade ago, both personally and professionally. He is no longer the singles player who alternated the Challenger tour with the ATP, but constantly playing on the final stages of the Grand Slams. For, him both scenarios have been savored in the same way.
Interview with Horacio Zeballos
– Another life in tennis than in the past decade. Another modality, you are seeded in every tournament and you have chances to win Grand Slams.
– All my life I played doubles, I always loved it, even though I gave priority to singles. I felt I was a good doubles player, but in the way singles was played, you know? I played singles in the doubles matches. My singles part is over. I am a doubles player who tries to improve day by day with things of this specialty: the volley, the serve, the way to return. It is a very nice discipline, and if I am here with almost 38 years old trying to continue at the top of tennis, it is because I like it.
– Which life do you prefer, the one of the first week singles player in Grand Slam, or the one of the doubles player in the final stages?
– I had moments to make the most of my singles career and now I am fully enjoying my doubles adventure. Today I enjoy winning a doubles title as much as I enjoy beating Rafa in a final in singles. I enjoy what I am doing today as much as that other moment, even though it is obviously the best achievement of my career.
– In 2013, after the final in Chile, Nadal won a lot: Indian Wells, Rome, Madrid, Roland Garros, Canada, Cincinnati, US Open. You being saw him so successful and you said….
– I beat him in a final! Yes, yes obviously. I didn’t want him not to lose any more, so I could be the last one who had beaten him. I also didn’t want to play me again, so that the record would stick to one to one. These are little things that you feel. Then we played one more time and he beat me. It was a source of pride for me, I’ll never forget it. Ten years have passed and I remember it like it was yesterday. Perfectly. The memories are very clear.
– You know the Nadal’s version after an injury break. Will it be the same this time? Will we see him coming back like he did in the past?
– He, like Federer, like Djokovic have shown that they can stop and come back with inhuman achievements. Is not the first time Rafa comes back. It is already like third or fourth time that his body will be at the limit after very difficult circumstances. It is logical that injuries appear again, but it never ceases to amaze. He gets injured and then wins I don’t know how many more Grand Slams. Today you have the seasoning that age does not help things to be the same as 10 years ago. It is difficult for him to return to the top level he has shown for so many years, but he never ceases to amaze us. Let’s hope that this is the case, that he comes back strongly.
– Don’t you see him near the end?
– If it is the end, it would be because of something more mental than physical. It is very difficult to say because he has surprised us many times with his ability to come back so well after injuries. I speak to you as a tennis fan more than from logic. I hope he will be there this year because it is very nice to see him play.
– How have your children changed your life in tennis?
– When I was 22 years old I used to lose and I felt it was the end of the world. As I grew up and matured I understood that there were more important things than sport. I can’t even explain when my children came along. Obviously that became the focus of my life and at a certain point it made me play better tennis because it took some pressure off me. I realized what were the things that really mattered. This is my job, but I’d always putt the family first.
– Does it feel much better when the family is at the tournaments with you?
– I try to travel as much as possible with them. It is difficult, it is expensive and complicated to travel in groups of four, especially because my daughter is already in second grade at school, she can’t miss so much, but as soon as we can, some vacations or something, we do it because we enjoy it a lot. They are having a great time here, they have the chance to get to know different cultures. With five and seven years old, it is a trip they will never forget, they met kangaroos, koalas, animals they saw on TV. Giving them that opportunity makes me very happy.
– You are a big fan of chess. Which are the similarities between chess and doubles? How has it helped your game?
– Undoubtedly it helps me. Today you play a lot of fast chess, quick games where you have to make instant decisions. That’s also true in tennis. You are in the volley, the rival hits hard to you and you have to decide in less than a second if you play cross court or parallel. In the chess games I play, it’s also full of decisions that you have to make and rely on that. I think that in chess as well as in tennis you value the decisions you make and you trust on them one hundred percent, because if you start with doubts, questioning what if, you suffer more. Deciding quickly and safely is very important in all sports. In tennis, in chess.
– You have not won a Grand Slam title yet, but you have been close.
– And if I don’t win, it won’t change anything, because I feel like I’m giving it all. I gave it all in singles, I’m giving it all in doubles. At 38 years old I’m still trying to be a better player. I try to serve bigger, to encourage myself more to go to the net. So, if I don’t win, I won’t regret at all. I would have regrets if I had not tried, but I am trying and I am trying hard. If I don’t make it, tough luck, it was because the opponent was better than me, not because I didn’t do my best.
– But having played several semis and finals, is it still a goal that motivates you?
– I tried not to think about that. I prefer to be the kind of player who enjoys the momento. Today I was watching the court, which was full because we were playing against an Australian player, enjoying the battle itself more than the result. But I also started saying ‘come on, come on, you deserve it’. You can win a big title, let’s go forward. Obviously step by step because every match is very hard, but winning is the goal.
If you enjoyed this interview with Horacio Zeballos, don’t miss this link to many other interviews with tennis greats.