French Open tennis: Rafael Nadal reveals the pain and fear behind his return to glory

Eight-times winner will rest his knee before Wimbledon, where he is likely to be seeded No 5

Trying to persuade Rafael Nadal in recent weeks to discuss the condition of his left knee has been like asking a spy to reveal state secrets. In the wake of his historic eighth French Open triumph on Sunday, however, the Spaniard finally dropped his guard.

Despite his extraordinary comeback, which has brought him seven titles from the nine tournaments he has played since he returned in February, Nadal revealed there had been times this year when his knee hurt so much he had concerns about his future.After seven months out of the game suffering with Hoffa's syndrome – a swelling around the tendon just below the kneecap – Nadal started his comeback in a minor tournament in Chile, where he was beaten in the final by Argentina's Horacio Zeballos. "At that moment I was more worried about things other than winning or losing that match," Nadal said. "I felt a lot of pain in my knee."

The pain and fear returned in April in Barcelona, where Nadal admitted he had felt "very negative" about the knee. "Some weeks I didn't feel well," he said. "I am still going week by week, day by day." However, the best news for Nadal is that he came through seven best-of-five-set matches in a fortnight at Roland Garros. "In the last couple of weeks my knee started to feel better," he said.

In particular, the Spaniard survived a marathon against Novak Djokovic in Friday's semi-finals, trained on Saturday and felt "100 per cent" for Sunday's final against David Ferrer. Although he has pulled out of this week's grass-court tournament in Halle while he assesses his fitness following a gruelling season on clay, he plans to return at Wimbledon.

"I really hope to be ready for Wimbledon," Nadal said. "I won't play a tournament before Wimbledon, so that's not the ideal situation before a Grand Slam on grass, where the conditions are very different. The tournament is more unpredictable for that reason. But I will try to arrive in good shape at Wimbledon. And if not, I am going to look to the rest of the season because I'm in a good position, even if I don't play a good Wimbledon.

"That doesn't mean I am not going to try, because I am going to try 100 per cent to be ready and to play good tennis there. But I'm in a position where I can be a little bit more relaxed.

"Everything went much better than I thought it would [at Roland Garros], so I'm in a position where if I'm still doing the things the right way, I will have the chance to finish the year in a very good position in the rankings."

Although Nadal dropped one spot to No 5 in yesterday's updated world rankings list, with Ferrer replacing him at No 4, he is well placed to make rapid strides in the months ahead.

Because of the drop in the rankings he is set to be seeded fifth at Wimbledon, which will mean that three of the game's big four players could find themselves in the same half of the draw.

While Nadal insists that regaining the world No 1 ranking is not a target, the top spot should be well within his reach provided his knees do not give way again. He has earned 6,850 ranking points since beginning his comeback, but between now and next February he has the princely sum of 45 points to defend. To be ranked world No 5 when he has not played in two of the last three Grand Slam tournaments, or in five of the last nine Masters Series events, is an extraordinary achievement.

He insists his general level of fitness is not what it was, largely because he restricts his practice in order to nurse his troublesome knee through the season. "At the beginning of my comeback my movement was very bad," he said. "But after a few weeks I started to move well. I started to move with the right intensity. And the tennis was there."

Did he ever doubt that he would rediscover a level of performance that enabled him to become the first man ever to win the same Grand Slam title eight times?

"I am a positive person," Nadal said. "I always think positively. But doubts are part of life. People who don't have doubts are so arrogant. There are doubts in everything. I think nothing is clear in this world. So for sure I had doubts, but I worked as hard as I could to get back."

Nadal said he believed there was always room for improvement. "If you don't feel that you can improve, you know nothing about life, because nothing is perfect in this life," he said. "I don't practise because I have to: I go to practice with a goal, things that I think I need to do better to keep being competitive against the best players.

"I love sport. I understand sport in only one way. Sport without a goal is stupid. If I go and play in any sport and I don't try my best, I don't like to do it. It would be better if I did another thing. I love tennis, but I love sport in general and the spirit of sport is what really moves me."

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Nigel Farage arrives for a hustings event at The Oddfellows Hall in Ramsgate on Tuesday
voicesA defection that shows who has the most to fear from Ukip
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Life and Style
Brave step: A live collection from Alexander McQueen whose internet show crashed because of high demand
fashionAs the collections start, Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution