An “emotional” Rafael Nadal on Monday said he watched spellbound as Tiger Woods rolled back the clock to win a fifth Masters title and cap his comeback from back surgery.
Spain’s world number two, a keen golfer himself, expressed nothing but admiration for Woods, who has fought through at least as many physical challenges as he has himself.
“It was amazing,” Nadal said as he prepared for his Wednesday start at the Monte Carlo Masters, his first event in a month since withdrawing with knee issues at Indian Wells before a semi-final against Roger Federer.
“I’m a big fan of him. Like I’ve said hundreds of times, that he’s probably my favourite sportsman in the world since a long time ago.”
Nadal could not help but compare his own years of fitness problems to those of Woods, who has faced multiple back surgeries and other roadblocks when it looked like his career might be close to ending.
“There have been tough years for him,” 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal said. “I cannot be happier about the victory of yesterday. If you imagine all the process and all the hard work that he had to do to be back on a golf course – all the things that he did... And, finally, to win a [major] again, especially in Augusta, probably his favourite one, means everything for him. I really know a little bit how hard he worked to be back. I was very emotional yesterday.”
Woods claimed a one-shot victory at Augusta on Sunday to win his 15th major title, but first since 2008.
Nadal, a 17-time Grand Slam champion, attended Woods’ Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas in 2017, while the golfing great has watched Nadal play at the US Open on multiple occasions.
Nadal seemed particularly struck by the fact that Woods celebrated his victory with his family on the 18th green.
“The celebration of yesterday when he was walking with the family, was one of the moments that I won’t forget.”
The 11-time Monte Carlo champion added that his own drive to succeed on court has not diminished despite his history of injuries.
“I never needed an inspiration. I’ve always been able to come back, it’s nothing new for me. I’ve been in comeback situations many times; I’ve always done well.
“One day it won’t be the same, but what happened during the last year for Tiger is an inspiration for everyone. He’s a good example of passion for sport... discipline, in terms of hard work... and love for the game.”
Subdued ahead of Monte Carlo
Nadal offered a low-key appraisal Monday of his chances for a record-extending 12th Monte Carlo Masters title as he prepares to return from his latest injury lay-off.
The 32-year-old Spaniard, whose bad knees and constant stoppages from competition have defined his career as king of clay, was extremely hesitant to even rate his chances as he gets set to face Roberto Bautista Agut in Wednesday’s second round start.
“I cant give you any feeling, it’s been a rough year and a half for me,” Nadal said ahead of his first match since withdrawing with another knee injury prior to an Indian Wells semi-final against Roger Federer last month.
“It’s tough for me to get a clear view of how I am. It’s all hard for me personally.”
Nadal has a vast number of ranking points to defend on clay after lifting titles in a spectacular 2018 run at Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros.
His only other trophy during a season in which he did not play at all after the US Open came on hard court in Toronto, where he beat young gun Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final.
“It’s been hard for me personally,” Nadal said of his latest physical setback.
“Now the work of every day is to improve, (make) small improvements in every practice.
“It’s important for me to have a good practice before the tournament starts and then try to be competitive for the first round.
“it’s gonna be a tough one (match with Bautista Agut), so let’s see.”
Nadal is seeded second here behind Novak Djokovic, who is hoping to build for the French Open as he attempts to complete a personal sweep by winning his fourth straight Grand Slam title.
While Bautista Agut fought back to beat Australian John Millman 3-6, 6-1, 6-1, Denis Shapovalov’s 20th birthday celebrations fell flat as he lost 5-7, 6-3, 6-1 to German Jan-Lennard Struff.
Fifteenth seed Shapovalov has yet to claim a win in the Principality after losing in the first round a year ago to Tsitsipas.
The nearly two-hour effort was marred by 10 double-faults from the Canadian youngster, who was broken six times.
German Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Taro Daniel 6-1, 6-3 to line up against top seed Novak Djokovic; Belgian 16th seed David Goffin made short work of Argentine Guido Andreozzi 6-1, 6-4.
Italy’s Fabio Fognini thrilled fans from across the nearby border with his 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 comeback defeat of Andrey Rublev.
Russian 10th seed Daniil Medvedev advanced easily over Portugal’s Joao Sousa 6-1, 6-1, but Hungarian Marton Fucsovics dumped out Nikolaz Basilashvili, the 12th seed, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1.