Roger Federer enters the locker room of the Paribas Master’s Series event on Friday, limping slightly due to the bad back that caused him to withdraw before his match with James Blake. As he enters, he sees Rafael Nadal, whose trainer is treating the knee injury that caused him to withdraw during the first set against Nicolay Davydenko.
RF: Hey Rafa, you okay?
RN: Aye, mi rodilla!
RF: I’ll say. How are you doing besides that? I mean, how are you holding up?
RN: Aye, mi tobillo.
RF: What’s wrong with your ankle?
RN: Always with the running. All year I doing the running and every time this year it feel bad.
RF: I can relate, kind of. You remember 2004 and 2005, I’m sure. I had great years, to be sure, but after the U.S. Open I really cleared my schedule so I could make it to the Masters. In 2005, you know I still had a bum foot and lost to Nalby in the final. Frankly, I was surprised I made it through the whole tournament.
RN: Aye, me duele una pierna!
RF: I imagine so. How many matches have you played this year, altogether?
RN: You count today? Then I play 94, I think.
RF: Holy cow. That’s the kind of schedule I used to play year after year, but I think I’m passed that point now. I mean, I was pretty beat up by October/November of those years, and the way I play isn’t nearly, I mean nearly as taxing as the way you do.
RN: …Oh, queiro descansar.
RF: So Nicolay advanced when you withdrew, so I guess he’ll play Nalby next. What do you make of his chances? How was he playing?
RN: You play Davydenko one time you can play him hundred times. It makes no difference. Always he play the flat, hard groundstrokes and breathing hard.
RF: You noticed that too?
RN: Of course. You thinking I deaf?
RF: I guess Nalby’s going to win that one. I mean, there really isn’t anything Davydenko can do that Nalby can’t do better. And Nalby always plays good this time of year.
RN: Yes, because he has vacation during summer when the rest of us are playing hard. Must be nice.
RF: Yeah, good point. What do you think about that Tsonga kid? He’s coming on strong in this event.
RN: Remember what he do to me in Australia?
RF: Yeah…is that kind of a touchy subject for you?
RN: Not anymore. I have good year after he beats me. Best year ever, actually. I just bringing that up because it shows what he can do when he plays good. He also had vacation during the summer, because of injury. Anyway, he’s in good condition now, so he can play good tennis on the fast surfaces.
RF: Sometimes I watch him and I can’t help but think about Becker, who was one of my idols growing up. Big serve, big forehand, touch volleys … both of them could look kind of awkward when they were running but could still hit great shots because they were so athletic.
RN: Roger, you go to Shanghai?
RF: Yeah, I wouldn’t miss it. That’s part of the reason why I withdrew today. I’ve had a lot of good results there so I want to be part of it again. I hope you’ll make it to.
RF: I mean, it wouldn’t be right for the year-end championships not to have the world’s top player.
RN: Maybe I let you go and you can be top player again for that week. I think you’re used to it by now. Anyway, I’ll see what I can do. You want same time, same place?
RF: You mean play in the semifinals for the third straight year? Shouldn’t we both aim to be the top performers in our brackets?
RN: First year I qualify for year-end championships, mi pie hurt so bad I can’t play at all. Last two years, I play but hardly have anything left. To make semifinals in such conditions is not bad for me.
RF: So, was it worth it? Is all the pain in your knee a small price to pay for being No. 1?
RF: And your foot?
RN: You keeping track of my injuries now?
RF: Did I miss something?
RN: You forget the arm. Sometimes it cramp up because I swing so hard. And si, I think it is worth it to be No. 1 first time. With you around it’s hard to imagine anybody else as No. 1, so it is great honor to get it. I’m hurting now, but maybe after Shanghai I take long break, play golf and watch some TV.
RF: But don’t you still have Davis Cup?
RN: Aye, España! This knee pain so bad I forget. When do I ever get a break? My reward for playing good tennis is to have to play more tennis!
RF: We definitely need a longer off season. From now on, I focus on the majors. I’m out to break the record and, maybe, y’know, win in Roland Garros if your knee hasn’t recovered by then.
RN: Aye, mi rodilla…
RF: But in the meantime, let Nalby, Tsonga and Murray have the Parises and the Madrids. Well, I’m going to take a hot shower and get ready for Shanghai. Hope to see you there, Rafa.
RN: We will see. Adios.