As the No. 1 tennis player in the world, Rafael Nadal is the subject of a lot of interviews, but there was one pressing question I just had to ask him when we met at the Lotte New York Palace on Thursday night: What ever happened to those super-long shorts?
When Nadal stepped onto the scene as a scrappy teenage clay-court specialist, his name was practically ubiquitous with a killer lefty forehand and past-the-knee shorts. Seriously, the britches were so long they practically qualified as capris.
But in 2009, something changed. Rafa traded in his lengthy legwear for a pair of typical athletic shorts that seem to get shorter with every passing year. While practicing for the 2017 U.S. Open, Nadal wore possibly his smallest pair yet, with an inseam that could not have been longer than six inches.
So why the total 360? It turns out the 31-year-old is very aware of wearing age-appropriate clothing. “They were very comfortable, but not for my age. When I was 18, 19, 20, they were OK,” he told InStyle at the 2017 Palace Invitational, where the world No. 1 would be taking on Venus Williams in a game of badminton. “I decided to change up the style in 2009. You never know what can happen in the future, but playing again with those long pants is not going to happen. I’m too old for that.”
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After multiple knee injuries and lengthy time off, it seems Nadal isn’t opposed to speaking about his veteran status. In fact, he didn’t think he would ever reclaim his spot as the best tennis player in the world.
“I just try to do it step by step and just work every day with the right attitude and believe that I can do things well again,” he told InStyle. “If you don’t have the motivation and the passion to be back—to compete at the highest level—at my age it would be difficult to wake up every day with the right attitude to go to practice.”
While his contemporary Roger Federer is also making headlines about his age, Andy Murray has turned the discussion to feminism—that is, his support of it. So does Nadal consider himself a feminist? He’s hesitant to use the word, but told InStyle, “I don’t see a difference between men and women.”
Rafa demonstrated the belief on Thursday night, when he took on Williams in a game of badminton, finding her a formidable opponent. After a five-minute battle, Nadal came out on top, but only squeaked out the win by a few small points.
Take it from this spectator: He certainly wasn’t letting her off easy.