Rafael Nadal has a chance encounter with Serena Williams
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Before every match, it is reported that Nadal has been seen planting his energy drink slightly in front of his water bottle with both labels perfectly facing the court. At every change of ends, he straightens his two water bottles – ensuring they’re perfectly aligned. But it doesn’t stop there. Before each and every serve, he places his hair behind his ear and fiddles with his shorts and after every single point, Nadal towels himself – even if he isn’t sweaty. Having been accused of using the “rituals” as a way to distract opponents in the past, Nadal himself spoke about the real reasoning behind his behaviours.
Writing in his 2011 autobiography Rafa he wrote: “I put my two bottles down at my feet, in front of my chair to my left, one neatly behind the other, diagonally aimed at the court. Some call it superstition, but it’s not.
“If it were superstition, why would I keep doing the same thing over and over whether I win or lose?
“It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.”
Revealing more of his pre-match routine Nada went on to share that he has a freezing cold shower roughly 45 minutes before a match, in which he enters a “new space” in which he feels his power and resilience grow.
He continued to say: “I’m a different man when I emerge. I’m activated. I’m in ‘the flow’, as sports psychologists describe a state of alert concentration in which the body moves by pure instinct, like a fish in a current. Nothing else exists but the battle ahead.”
When asked about his behaviours and pre-match routine specifically Nadal added: “It is something you start to do that is like a routine. When I do these things it means I am focused, I am competing – it’s something I don’t need to do but when I do it, it means I’m focused.”
Crucially however, Nadal does not class this as OCD, particularly as he says he can stop doing these rituals at any point. In fact, speaking about his nephew, Nadal’s uncle (and coach) Tony commented this back in 2012: “He has told me before he can stop doing them, and I have told him to do it.
“It does not affect his game, but if he needed those things to play well, it would be bad.”
OCD, as defined by the NHS is a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
The NHS notes that an obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters your mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease.
Whereas a compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that you feel you need to do to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
For example, someone with an obsessive fear of being burgled may feel they need to check all the windows and doors are locked several times before they can leave their house. Although some may not find the condition has a huge impact on their lives, for others it can significantly interfere with their life.
Although comments from Nadal suggest that he doesn’t suffer from the condition, sports psychologist Dr Adam Naylor, Director of Telos Sport Psychology Coaching, has warned about the dangers of Nadal’s habits.
He has commented in the past: “I see such things providing some consistency and sense of control.
“Superstitions are harmless for the most part but become harmful when they control the player rather than the player controlling them.”
He added: “In tennis, routines between points allow the player to put the previous point behind them, relax and then get focused and energised for the point that lies ahead. That is crucial.”
However, concern for Nadal is settled by the fact that other professional players such as Serena Williams and Roger Federer have also been known to follow strict superstitions that allow them to play at their best.
For those that need help and support with OCD, there are some effective treatments that can help to control and reduce both obsessions and compulsions.
The main treatments recommended by the NHS are:
- Psychological therapy – usually cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which helps you face your fears and obsessive thoughts without “putting them right” through compulsions
- Medicine – usually a type of antidepressant medicine called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can help by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain.
Information and support for people affected by OCD and hoarding, can be found at ocdaction.org.uk or via telephone on 0300 6365478.
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