Two good friends, always up for some banter, Rafael Nadal and Pablo Carreño Busta will square off in the third round of the¬ Australian Open on Saturday in a clash that is sure to be a thriller for both of them. Before the match, Carreno Busta sat down with ATPTour.com to analyse his relationship with the World No. 1 and evaluate his progress, both as a player and a person.
What’s your first memory of Rafael Nadal?
The first time I hit balls with him was at the 2009 French Open, where I was playing in the junior competition. Rafa had already won the tournament several times and it was my first time there. Where we truly had a relationship was at the Davis Cup [tie] we played in the Caja Mágica in Madrid against Ukraine to stay in the World Group. It was the year that I moved into The top 100 and I was lucky enough to go as a training partner. There I spent more time with Nadal, Verdasco, Robredo… With Rafa I had a great relationship from the very first day, we just clicked. We joke with each other all day and then there’s the odd thrashing he gives me in training too.
Why did you click?
I really don’t know. I think we have a lot in common. I respect him so much, I never back down against him. Of course, I still respect him, but I fight him to the death at the same time. Whether we’re playing video games, watching a football match, or anything. Our relationship has been good from the very start and I’m lucky to get on so well with a player like Rafa.
Do you still play on the PlayStation together?
We’ve barely played recently. We played two matches on the PlayStation at the Davis Cup because afterwards there was no time. We haven’t played much on the console either because Rafa has grown up and now he plays Ludo, but we’re really competitive at anything, even chapas. Rafa is the most competitive person in the world, there’s always a good atmosphere.
In 2017, in your first Grand Slam quarter-final, you had to withdraw against Nadal because of an abdominal injury.
It was a difficult moment. It was my first time in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam. I had just beaten players like Dimitrov and Raonic. And playing against Rafa at Roland Garros in a quarter-final… I was losing the first set, but it really hurt not to be able to finish the match, even if he might have won 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. I was unable to enjoy the experience, but I think I also learnt things from that match.
And on Saturday you’ll meet him again in the third round of the Australian Open.
It’s a very tough match. I know him very well. I’ve been lucky enough to be with him quite a lot recently, both at the Davis Cup and the ATP Cup. I would have liked to have played against Rafa later, not in the third round. It’s going to be a great match.
Playing against Nadal, in this case the World No. 1, is a very difficult match. You’d expect him to win. Obviously I’m going to go out there completely confident that I can try and make things difficult. Playing against a friend is a little more difficult, but we’re used to playing each other and with the team competitions we’ve had recently we’ve grown closer, now we know each other a little better. Having said that, on the court we fight to the death.
What do you have to do to beat him?
Well, we all know Rafa. He has a good forehand, he’s really improved his cross-court backhand and he’s serving very well recently. I will have to try not to give him the initiative all the time because if I do, I’ll be dead. I’m not normally a counter-puncher, but I can be. I’ll have to be very aggressive and take more risks than normal. Obviously, when you play like that it can go either way.
If I manage to have a good, very complete match, and he doesn’t have his best day… why wouldn’t I try and beat him?I already saw Goffin beat him in the ATP Cup and De Miñaur came close. I know Rafa very well and I know where he may falter, even though he doesn’t often. I’ll try to give my all to win the match.
What’s left of the Pablo Carreño Busta who played his major debut against Roger Federer in the 2013 French Open?
I’m completely different, but as a player and a person. That Pablo Carreño was trying to find his place among the giants of the game. I was very innocent, much shier than I am now. I’m not only a better player, I’ve also grown and evolved as a person. In this world, if you don’t keep fighting you’ll get buried. You have to make yourself seen. Always with respect and doing things right, but you can’t play against Federer and just crumble. It’s very difficult and it happens to a lot of people.
In that match I started 0-5. And because Federer is a good guy he let me win a game. I didn’t even know where I was. Just hearing his list of wins when he entered the court… I got cold just waiting for the speaker to finish. I’ve changed a lot; now I may get thrashed by them, but it will be a lot harder for them to beat me than it was then.