Caroline Garcia: “Rafael Nadal’s soul is everywhere here”
Caroline Garcia got stuck in Manacor during the lockdown, while training at the Rafa Nadal Academy facilities. Here she explains how she found ways to keep training, and how the situation has improved as the academy starts to open again.
Carole Bouchard spoke with the 26-year-old world No 46 about what it was like to be holed up in Manacor during quarantine, how she feels about training in the presence of Nadal and what she thinks the odds are that the tennis season will resume before the end of 2020.
How is it going for you now that the lockdown has started to be lifted? Can you train normally again?
“For two weeks and a half, parts of the academy have opened again. We can train on a few clay courts and I can access the gym.”
Have you had the opportunity to cross paths with Rafael Nadal?
(She laughs) “I see him, yes. We were at the gym at the same time last week, but now he’s hitting on hard court and me on clay. It’s tougher for him to adjust to hard courts so he prefers to start by it, it seems.”
On social media, we’ve seen you working a lot on your fitness during the whole lockdown time, yet it must have been tough to get motivated…
“Yes, I had to stay motivated, that’s for sure (she laughs). First of all, there wasn’t really anything else to do because we couldn’t get out. And then, we decided to use that time to work on my fitness, also on the things I wasn’t doing as best as possible recently. We keep on doing the work we started since the start of the year: we hadn’t reached the desired level so we had better be using that lockdown time to work as best as possible. We’ve dealt well with the situation and actually, except maybe during the first couple of weeks, those couple of months went by quite quickly. The academy helped me to get the needed material, I was able to do quite a lot of things.”
You still got lucky to be stuck in “Nadal land” in the midst of this crisis!
“On the eve of the lockdown, we took a flight ticket to get back to Alicante because the academy was closing. We were in the taxi for the airport when the academy called to say it might open again sooner than we thought and that they could find us a flat to stay in. We thought it was better to stay because I wasn’t going to be able to train in Alicante. So we came back. Well, it didn’t totally open back sooner but the training conditions were much better than what I’d have got elsewhere. The flat is spacious, and we’re on an island here so there were very few Covid-19 cases. It’s been very quiet.”
Garcia: “I love the Spanish mentality and I think it can help me”
Being now settled in Manacor at the Academy looks like a fresh start for you, no?
“Yes, we already had a nice stay there in February when we came for a training session. I’m used to training on my own, and even when I was practising near Lyon at French Federation facilities I couldn’t find players of the desired level, even if now it’s a bit less the case. It wasn’t always easy to be motivated, whereas here is the opposite, you can find players of every level, lots of young players, and everybody is training hard. Rafael Nadal’s soul is everywhere here, and his uncle Toni is often on the courts and can give you some pieces of advice here and there. Also, everything you need is on site, it’s very practical.”
So the “Rafa spirit” is really a thing?
“Yes. When Rafa is around, he’s training here very often so everybody can see him. It’s also the Spanish way: lots of work, lots of hitting, and movements during the practice sessions. It’s interesting and it makes me get out of my old routines. I like the Spanish mentality and I think it can help me.”
Being used to training on your own surely helped you go through that lockdown…
“Yes, that’s true. I’ve worked alone so often, like in the winter training, and I’m used to communicating virtually with the rest of the team. We’ve done a good job, we’ve found a way to deal with the situation even when it was not easy. Like usually, I never train on a bike, but here I’ve done that all the time! There were a lot of new exercises. We needed a bit of time to adjust, but we did great in the end. Some days, sure, I didn’t feel like training but I kept telling myself that it would help me to stay in shape. And now I’m able to hit on the court again, which can also be tricky because of the lack of goals. But it’s still worth it because it’s useful to get back into the hitting routine and to get the body used to it again. It’s less easy than one would think. I’m just hitting for like an hour for now.”
Have you discovered any new hobbies during the lockdown?
“I always liked cooking and baking. So I’ve done that a lot, also with my Mum here and it was nice to share those moments with her. I’ve also started doing puzzles, which helped me getting my screen time down: it’s not that easy and it makes you work on your patience and focus.”
A Wish: “There’s still hope for the Tour to resume”
Patience isn’t usually your biggest thing, but I guess there was no other choice anyway so…
“There was some frustration and tension at the start, but progressively you find a way to live day by day and so you find a routine. I focus on trying to stay in the moment and on what I can control. One needs to be able to adjust. Also here it was very quiet, even if the lockdown was pretty tough with very little time allowed outside. There was nobody in the streets in the afternoon. At first, I felt anxious but when we saw how the situation was evolving we were glad to be there.”
Do you still keep in touch with the Tour?
“Yes, the WTA is doing a really good job of staying in touch with us and keeping us informed. Each week, we have a 30-minute or 1-hour meeting where they give us all the available information and tell us what they’re currently working on. It helps us to put things into perspective. But sure, if we’re getting back on Tour this year, the rules will be very different and it will be a bit disturbing.”
Optimism seems to come back those days: do you think you will play again in 2020?
“For August or September, there’s still hope for the Tour to resume, even with strict rules and even maybe behind closed doors. But travel bans seem to get lifted here and there, so it looks like we’re going to reach a new big step. if we keep following the health regulations, there’s a good reason to hope to avoid a second wave and so be able to play again, even in conditions totally different than before. I never really believed that we wouldn’t play anymore in 2020, and even less now.”
Behind closed doors? “It would be rough for the motivation”
Playing the US Open or Roland-Garros behind closed doors: would you still like to play?
“It would be better than nothing, that’s what I’m trying to tell myself. If we can play one or two Grand Slams at this end of the season, I’d be already very happy. But behind closed doors, it won’t be the same at all. Having only the coaches, the umpire, and the line judges, it’s going to be special. It would be rough for motivation.”
The tennis landscape could change dramatically if this merger between the ATP and the WTA happens: are you in favour of it?
“That’s something that has popped out here and there for some time already, perhaps not publicly. It would be good for tennis, for the fans, it would be easier for everyone. But obviously, it’s complicated. These are two entities that are already quite strong now and have strongly developed their own side. In other sports, it is quite rare to have exactly the same identity for men and women. If it happens, it would really be a very good thing, but we’ll wait to see when it happens as I don’t think it will be tomorrow.”
How do you see the next few weeks going for you now that you can return to a more or less normal training?
“We’re trying to make plans with the team based on seeing the Tour resuming at the US Open or Roland Garros. For now, we’re going to continue a little bit on the same rhythm for two or three weeks. Then for sure there will be a short break of 10 days or two weeks, with still some training sessions, because training for four months without going out as much as I’m used to, it’s a risk to end in a burnout mentally if I go on like this. We may take advantage of the fact that things are opening to rest the body and the mind, and after we’ll go back to four weeks of an off-season-like work.”
Do you think this break could also end up being good for you?
“This is how I want to see it and I think it will. When all the tournaments started to be cancelled, it was hard because I really wanted to play. I felt I had trained a lot since the beginning of the year already, and I was lacking matches. I was a little frustrated but then I told myself that it was going to help me get mentally fresh again and have another start. There is a little less stress, too, so it has allowed me to have simple moments with my parents. We all feel even more united now.”
Louis-Paul Garcia, Father and Coach of Caroline: “We’ve set our sights on Roland-Garros”
Bouchard also caught up briefly with Garcia’s longtime coach and father, Louis-Paul, to get his take on the last three months and his plan for the rest of the season.
“We know Manacor’s rooftops by heart, because we live in an apartment overlooking them. We went out every evening at 8 p.m. to applaud, like the whole street. On our right, there was the grandmother, and the aunt by Rafael Nadal. They actually hosted us, were really nice.
“It (the academy) is really user-friendly. There are all these young people who are also training, it’s an interesting dynamic. There is a family atmosphere that reigns, there is not a feeling that there is Nadal and then the others below. Caroline feels good in this atmosphere dedicated to tennis. There was a recovery with small aches and pains (foot, shoulder), but we have everything we need here, so no problem.
“It is not easy to resume, but it was important to take the racquet in her hands again. Knowing that it was going to be so difficult physically, even if she had worked a lot, it is not the same thing. It is getting better and better and this Wednesday morning, she was able to hit with Jaume Munar (Next Gen ATP player from Spain, world No 105). It’s perfect. This is an opportunity to rework certain aspects, and we have a little more time to instil new habits. We have our sights on Roland-Garros. But if we have to play in the United States, we will go.”