“People’s love for Nadal and Federer is unbeatable”- interview with Feliciano López

Feliciano López
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LONDON – The GOAT debate runs for Feliciano Lopez on two different tracks: one is that of titles and records, which on the men’s side, has in Novak Djokovic an absolute winner. The other is that of emotions.

“I think the Federer-Nadal rivalry has been the most incredible, the one that has been able to influence more people in the world,” says the former world number 12 in an interview with CLAY in London.

It feels strange to the Spaniard that he is no longer a professional tennis player. He started out as a professional tennis player in the past millennium. From 1997 to 2023 he accumulated some impressive records. One, perhaps, unbeatable? The string of Grand Slams in which he put his name in the main draw. That was 79 majors in a row with himself playing. 81 in total (tied with Roger Federer), a record that speaks of a very regular career without many injuries.

He retired in Mallorca, a week before Wimbledon. His wish was to do it at the All England Club. It didn’t happen, but he is still satisfied. From now on, he will devote himself full time on the other side of the circus, with the Madrid Masters 1000 and the Davis Cup Finals as the most important events under his management.

– Does it sound weird to google your name and read that your Wikipedia biography it already starts with “Feliciano Lopez is a former professional tennis player”?

– Yeah, man. I’ve been doing the same thing my whole life. It feels weird, but since I had already thought about it a long time ago, it has been easier. When the time comes to retire, it doesn’t take me by surprise. I have been able to decide how and when to retire, that in the tennis world sometimes doesn’t happen so often. I have been very lucky.

– Were you satisfied with how the end came about? Because you still wanted Wimbledon to have been your last tournament, but unfortunately you didn’t get that chance…

– Yes, obviously I really wanted to play here. This tournament is very special, it would have been very nice. But I didn’t get the invitation. I understand, the tournament gets a lot of requests and it must not be easy. I was very happy with how it went in Mallorca, how I played, I didn’t expect to play at that level for so many days. I am very satisfied.

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– What is the most valuable thing that tennis has left you?

– Everything. Tennis has been my life for thirty years.

– Do you keep any debts in tennis?

– Man, there are always moments in your career when you think you could have achieved something more. It’s also very easy to talk when it’s all over. You can’t act the same when you’re 20 or when you’re 30. I don’t have any regrets, I did the best I could. In terms of results? If I had to choose a specific match in my life, here (in London 2012) I lost an Olympic medal with David Ferrer. We had three match points to get into the doubles final. But these are things that happen. Also the match I lost to (Marat) Safin in the quarterfinals (of Wimbledon 2008). It was tough, it was the pass to the semis, I felt I had it under control. But overall I am very satisfied with everything I have achieved. More than I expected in my career.

– And the best came as a thirty-year-old. Experience is the real divine treasure…

– Even after the age of 35 there are some of the best moments. I did not expect it and I have enjoyed it very much.

Feliciano López officially left professional tennis in June 2023 in Mallorca // MALLORCA CHAMPIONSHIPS

– What did you think of the men’s final at Wimbledon? Did a new era just started?

– A spectacular match. It’s very difficult to say that it started a new era, but I do think beating Nole in a Wimbledon final it’s a very big step in Carlos’ career. Carlos and Nole are the two best players in the world by far right now. We will see how the year ends. Novak has two Grand Slams and Carlos one. I think Alcaraz is going to dominate the tour when Nole is gone if everything stays normal.

– Are you excited about the idea of seeing the Alcaraz-Nadal duo competing for an Olympic medal for Spain in Paris 2024?

– It would be a dream for all tennis fans to see them together in an Olympic Games. Also in the Davis Cup.

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– Rafael Nadal has given light to the other Spanish tennis players. Can it be said that in some cases he has overshadowed them?

– It depends. I consider him an inspiration for me and for many others. When I started, he didn’t exist. I was lucky to always have one or two Spanish tennis players who were triumphing as an example to follow. Then, since Rafa appeared, I have been lucky to know him personally, to live and train with him, to share his triumphs. For me it has been a good fortune to have him so close, to share generation with him.

– What about the media?

– The truth is that I have never felt overshadowed by his figure. I think everyone in life gets what he deserves. Rafa is true that generates a brutal attention, it is normal because of how good he is, what he has done since very early. It is normal that such a great figure gets all the attention from the media, from people. Having shared so much with him has helped me to be a better player and a better person. Having him around you can only learn. Whether it can affect you more or less in the media, I don’t think it’s important.

– Is Nadal preparing to win, or he just wants to have a decent-level farewell?

– He is fine and his recovery is going well. Knowing Rafa and watching his career, it’s hard for me to see him enter a tennis court without feeling competitive. If everything goes well, in 2024 we will see him playing well. At what level? It’s difficult to know because it’s a big question mark. It’s been a long time, after the injury at Wimbledon 2022 he played very little. But he has all the rest of the year to recover.

– Then he will be competitive again.

– Yes, I’m sure that if Rafa returns to play tennis he will do it competitively. Sometimes being away from the courts helps you to see things differently, to come back with enthusiasm and desire. Because keep in mind that being 15 or 20 years at that level of demand saturates you mentally. Being away from your family and your son can help a lot.

Rafael Nadal was a spectator in one of Lopez’s last matches.

– Do you think the same as Juan Monaco? In an interview with CLAY he said that people love Federer and Nadal much more than Djokovic, and that the first two changed tennis in a much more transcendental way.

– I think so. There is a lot of talk about who is the best ever. One is the titles. Another is those who consider who is better based on the emotions the player has been able to bring, what people has experienced while watching the player’s matches on television, the way he inspired future generations. I find it difficult to surpass what Federer and Nadal have done for tennis. It is something out of the ordinary. Surely it has been the most incredible rivalry, the most enduring, the one that has been able to inspire the greatest number of people in the world. That’s one thing. Another thing is the numbers, the tournaments won, the weeks as number one in the world. That’s a different debate. The affection and love that people have in the world for Rafa and Federer is unsurpassed.

– Federer is the only one of the Big 3 that you could never beat. Apart from the tennis arguments and the great level for many years, did he play some kind of mental game with his opponents?

– He usually imposed himself by his quality as a tennis player. Mentally he was very strong, a beast. The three, even the four because I include Murray, are mentally at a different level. Federer imposed his dominance on the court because tennis wise he overwhelmed you. He was so good that you could not play at the pace you wanted: a different ball speed, a beastly rhythm and intensity of play. Each with their own particularities, it was very difficult to face them. There was nothing apart that made you suffer against him. His tennis was enough for him.

– Don’t you think Djokovic sometimes plays mind games? Like the times he uses press conferences as an opportunity to get into the opponents’ heads.

– You’d have to ask Novak. In the end, as much as that feeds many headlines, or that the press is aware of many things that can give to talk about, I believe more in what happens on the court both tennis and mentally. I don’t believe so much in those mind games at these levels.

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– It was seen at Wimbledon how he was applauded for his genius and how he was booed for some attitudes. Why does he generate such different things in people?

– Djokovic has contributed a lot to tennis. I can tell you that he has always treated me with a lot of respect.

– Your friend Stefanos Tsitsipas… He found love!

– (laughs) I haven’t really talked to him about it. I saw him a bit at Wimbledon and in Mallorca. We haven’t had much time to talk about it. I like people to be happy, I like my friends to be happy. He is happy at this moment in his life and I am very happy for him. I hope it goes well for them.

– Is this relationship with Paula Badosa positive for his tennis?

– I am not the one to give an opinion. I don’t have the information, nor do I think it’s something debatable. That a player has a girlfriend or boyfriend, that is not the subject of debate regarding his tennis career. Stefanos is a great professional. Like any person in any field, having a partner doesn’t have to affect his performance, not at all.

– Would you like to see Juan Martin Del Potro at the US Open again this year?

– Yes, I would love to. Hearts me when a great player has to leave his career due to physical problems. In the case of Juan Martin, much more, because he has suffered a lot of damage with injuries. His career would have been very different without them. He was already brilliant and he would have been even more so. I was very sad to see him retire the way he did. Because tennis-wise he still had a lot left in him. I still think so, because Del Potro has shown that by training after operations and a thousand things he has been able to return to the top ten and beat the best. I hope he can return to tennis in a competitive way, even if it is only one tournament, two or three. It would be a pleasure to see him.

– And what is the most entertaining thing about life as a tournament director?

– The amount of things you learn when you work on the other side of the industry. When you’re a tennis player you don’t realize a lot of what goes on. In the end it’s a big circus and as a tennis player all you think about is being well prepared, competing, taking care of yourself, sleeping, eating. Everything it takes to be a professional. I have realized the tremendous efforts behind the events. It’s a lot of fun. It’s the same world, but it’s different. Sometimes making decisions that the players are not going to like. Also understand the part of the sponsors, the great effort that it means for the brands to raise the events … when you are a tennis player, you are a little selfish, right? Some because they do not want to realize it, others because they are very young, others because they are simply focused on their work and do not pay much attention to many things, but there is much more behind the lives of those who enter the court. For me it is very interesting all the things I am learning from this leadership position.

– Did you ever face a conflict of interest?

– No, never, because since I became director of Madrid, I could no longer play the tournament. Automatically any conflict disappeared. I always felt free to make the decisions that the team and I thought were best for the tournament. And with the independence of being a player at that time still active.

– What is the story behind the women’s doubles final ceremony in Madrid? Why weren’t the finalists given the opportunity to speak?

– Well, a decision was made… I’m not going to go into details, but a decision was made for which the CEO of the tournament and the tournament have already apologized. For reasons that we’re not going to go into detail now. It already happened. That decision was wrongly made, forgiveness was asked for it, and from there on, the only thing left to do is to move forward.

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