Rafael Nadal, back on a hard court for the first time in 344 days, played well enough to beat Ryan Harrison 7-6, 6-2 in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open. But he produced a far more compelling performance in the post-match news conference.
Maybe seven months away from the game with knee problems has sharpened his opinions. He was certainly not short of a few here.
Listen to what he thinks about the new ATP rule which requires umpires to clamp down on anyone taking longer than 25 seconds between points:
“That’s true,” he replied when asked about playing at a faster pace. “I played much faster, no? I am doing that because someone very smart puts in a new rule that is a disaster in my opinion. Not in places like here, which is dry. But it is a complete disaster when we are playing in humid places like Acapulco, Brazil or Chile.”
Nadal said he went back to watch some of his matches in Grand Slams to check how long it took him and his opponent to recover from long rallies.
“You have to see the third set of the US Open 2011 against (Novak) Djokovic and tell me if the crowd was very happy in that set or not. You need 40 seconds rest after a great point of 30, 40 shots. Tell me if with this new rule that can happen again.”
Hard courts were another target.
“Somebody has to think, not for today,” Nadal said. “I’m not talking about my career. We’re going to finish my career playing the same number of tournaments on hard (courts) because that’s the dynamic. But my opinion is for the next generations.
"Hard courts are aggressive for the body. It’s a medical thing. If the next generations want to finish their careers with better conditions physically, the ATP has to find a solution and not continue playing more and more tournaments on this surface that is harder for the joints and for the knees; for the foot, for the ankles, for the back, for everything.
"I would not answer this question in 2005, 2006 — but now I have won a lot of tournaments on hard (courts) and that gives me the confidence to say this to you. I am not having this opinion just because I prefer to play on clay.”
As for the match, Nadal poked fun at his performance midway through the first set.
“At 4-1, I felt I was playing OK. Nothing special, but OK. Then I played that fantastic game at 4-2 with one double fault and three forehands out of the stadium. You know, after that the set became very tricky.”
After the laughter, he continued, “My physical performance needs to improve. My movement needs to improve. But today, more than any result, any victory is important because that gives me the chance to play another day. That’s what I need, (to) play matches. I really want to compete.”
Harrison, who has been getting some tough love from his friend Andy Roddick in Austin, Texas since losing in the first round at Delray Beach, Fla., was relatively upbeat despite his loss.
“I feel a lot better after this match, even though I lost, than I have hitting the ball in a month or so," Harrison said. "Even in the second set I was throwing him off by serving and volleying a lot. I wish my first-service percentage could have been higher (53 percent).
"But it was still enjoyable. I’m still loving the moment, loving the fact that I’m out there playing in a huge stadium against one of the best players ever. Do your best with it, compete as hard as you can and try to enjoy it because this is your job. Not many people get to play (a) sport as their job, so there isn’t much to complain about.”
Harrison says he has learned to control his temper since the Olympics last summer — when he tossed his racket in disgust, almost hitting a ball boy — and it certainly looks that way. He will become a better player because of it.