Paris: Rafael Nadal insisted on Friday he still feels “young” ahead of his 30th birthday as the Spaniard looks to regain the French Open crown he surrendered last year.
The record nine-time champion will turn 30 on June 3, which falls during the second week of Roland Garros, but stressed he remains as devoted as ever after an underwhelming 2015 campaign.
“No, I’m not feeling old. On court it is true that I had a lot of years here on the tour, but in terms of mentality and in terms of life I feel myself young,” said Nadal.
“I don’t think about going to be 30. Something that I don’t — even if I don’t think is a real thing,” he added, while smiling.
“You know, time never stops. Nobody stops the time. That’s not a good thing, but at the same time, I am happy with my life. I enjoyed all these years on the tour, and I hope to keep enjoying the next couple of years.”
For just the third time in his career Nadal heads into the tournament not as the man to beat, but instead a challenger in search of a 10th French Open title that would see him surpass Martina Navratilova’s nine Wimbledon singles crowns.
Nadal, promoted to the fourth seed after Roger Federer’s withdrawal, will face big-serving Australian Sam Groth in round one and arguably has the toughest draw of the top men.
He is on a semi-final collision course with world number one Novak Djokovic should he progress from a potential quarter-final against home hope, and two-time semi-finalist, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Djokovic has the edge at 26-23 after winning the last seven meetings — Nadal’s last victory came in the 2014 final in Paris — but victories at Monte Carlo and Barcelona last month have reinvigorated the world number five.
“I don’t want to compare (this year to 2015). I am well into 2016 now, and I played a few good events in a row. So I hope to continue playing well here,” said Nadal.
“That’s all my goal: keep going the same way that I am playing, and if it’s possible to play even a little bit better and better. But I’m happy the way I have played since Indian Wells. A lot of tournaments in a row playing well. I need to just keep going.”
Nadal was bounced out by Djokovic in straight sets a year ago in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, but the Spaniard said it felt no different coming into the event without the title to defend.
“Well, it’s better to be here defending your title than not. But at the same time, it’s obvious that it’s impossible to have the same feeling every year.
“I had that feeling a lot of times in my career, but I’m not arriving with this feeling this year. At the same time, I am excited. The goal is still always the same if you are defending or you are not defending. It doesn’t make a big difference on what you want to do.”