Rafael Nadal has revealed he had tears in his eyes as Lionel Messi led Argentina to World Cup final glory.
Even for Real Madrid fan Nadal, there was a joy in seeing former Barcelona talisman Messi achieve his greatest feat at an age when some doubted he would ever lift the trophy.
Now 35, Messi was the driving force behind Argentina’s success in Qatar. He scored two goals as Sunday’s final against France ended in a pulsating 3-3 draw, plus a penalty in the shoot-out that followed, clinching the Golden Ball as the tournament’s outstanding player.
For Nadal, who won his 22nd grand slam two days after turning 36 in June, seeing another person achieving late-career success is something to which he can relate.
“Messi lifting the World Cup made me happy. That someone so great culminates with a title that was missing, of this calibre, with all that it means for Argentina, it seemed fair to me,” Nadal said.
“I enjoyed it and I was moved. Without siding with Argentina, when Messi scored the third goal tears came to my eyes.
“It was because of the emotion of seeing someone so great achieve what was missing, having suffered so much to achieve it.”
Nadal would also have taken a close interest in Kylian Mbappe hitting a hat-trick for France in the Lusail Stadium final, given the Paris Saint-Germain striker is a long-time Madrid target.
Mbappe snubbed Madrid to sign a new PSG contract in May, but it would be no surprise if eventually he ends up at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The matter of Mbappe came up in an interview with AS, who made Nadal their athlete of the year.
Nadal was asked if he would forgive Mbappe if he signed for Madrid.
“I don’t have to forgive Mbappe for anything and as a Madrid fan, if he could, come tomorrow,” Nadal said.
“In the end, things happen in sports and I suppose that such a young boy was overwhelmed by such tremendous pressure from all angles that in the end… I think he wanted to come to Madrid, but due to many factors, everything was very complicated for him. Hopefully we can see him in Madrid in the future.”
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Nadal said he would be leaving for Australia on December 26 and cautioned against expecting too much immediately at the start of the new tennis season, pointing to “very difficult” singles matches at the United Cup against Cameron Norrie and Nick Kyrgios.
The Australian Open, where Nadal is the defending men’s singles champion, begins on January 16 in Melbourne, with all the focus on getting into prime shape by then.
“Let’s see now how the year begins. I’m aware that I’m a little tight here, but I’m confident that I can get to the level I need to be competitive in Australia,” Nadal said.
“We’ll see what happens. Things change very quickly in sports. But I have the illusion of having a good year again and giving myself options to compete again at the highest level. I am aware that I am the age that I am, and that things happen. I will have to manage it in the best possible way and try to do my best to give myself real options.”