Watch CBS News

Rafael Nadal discusses overcoming his own physical and mental health issues

Exclusive: Rafael Nadal opens up to Norah O'Donnell
CBS News Exclusive: Tennis star Rafael Nadal on overcoming injury to pursue history 03:12

Missing from this year's Olympics was tennis superstar Rafael Nadal. A foot injury forced him to sit the games out, but now he's aiming to score a record 21st Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.

His road to the tournament starts in Washington, D.C., where he is back, wowing crowds with his forehand and incredible spin. 

"I don't think today I am at my 100%," he told "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell in an exclusive interview. "The goal is to be closer to that 100% the day I start the tournament." 

It's a welcome return after missing Wimbledon, Where Novak Djokovic tied Nadal and Roger Federer in the men's all time Grand Slam list. At stake, the title of world's greatest tennis player. But Nadal said that's not his main concern.

"Honestly, it's the same important as always," he said. "The fact that Novak has 20, Roger have 20, I have 20 don't increase the motivation for me, or the pressure. My approach will not change. I always stay the same. I do my way. If Novak or Roger plays there and win, okay, well done for them. I will not be frustrated for that. I know I achieve something that I never dreamed about, and I gonna keep fighting for, keep doing things."

Nadal's fighting spirit is why fans waited hours during a downpour. The Citi Open in Washington, D.C., will be his first tournament with a full crowd since the pandemic began.

"I think that sport, in general, needs a crowd," he said. "I think it's tougher for the more older players than for the younger players because the younger players, they have the energy for everything."

But because of the pandemic, he's posing for fewer selfies.

"I think everybody should be worried by the coronavirus," he said. "A lot of people suffering, a lot of people dying."

And Nadal is no stranger to the pressures of competition.  

"Everybody approaches the issues in a different way," the 35-year-old tennis player said about athletes and their mental health. "We are under pressure because the competition makes you feel more stress. But, at the same time, we are super lucky persons, you know, because we are able to work on one of our hobbies. The most important thing in this life, in my opinion, is be happy, more than anything else."

He admits, though, that he occasionally feels that stress weighing on his mental health and that pressure can be overwhelming.

"Sometimes you feel a little bit anxious," he explained.

Nadal says 2015 was one of those times for him. But every athlete has their own way of overcoming the pressure.

"One approach is stop it for a while and try to recover," he said. "Another approach is just keep trying and accept that you have this problem. You accept that you will not win. My approach was to keep going and slowly overcome that situation. So I was doing, and after eight months I started to feel much better."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.