Some people ask me, “What use can Rafael Nadal have for a watch when he’s playing?” But Nadal explained to me after he won the 2010 French Open that during the semi-final, which was a very challenging match, there were critical moments when he wanted to check the time. I asked him why, and he said that on the court there is absolutely no time — there is an elapsed-time measurement, but not a reading for the time of day. He wanted to know what the condition of the light would be, and also if he were to go on for a certain number of sets, whether they would have to come back the following day.
I hate the idea of ambassadors. I consider Rafael Nadal and Formula One driver Felipe Massa to be our partners. And the critical difference is that I am not interested to have someone simply wear my watch off court, or away from the racetrack, but I want them to test my watches in competitions; I want them to use the watches to the very limits of pressure and even abuse them to demonstrate their value as high-performance technical instruments, as racing machines for the wrists. When I first broached the subject with Nadal, he said, “I love your brand, but there is no way. It is impossible. I cannot wear a watch when I play, because no serious, competitive, contemporary male tennis player has ever worn a watch when he plays. It would destroy my balance, it would make me lose focus. It would be a disaster.”
Finally, it was thanks to the accidental intercession of the king of Spain that he considered it. One day, Rafael had dinner with the king and he mentioned that he had been in contact with me. He asked the king, who is a well-known watch lover, if he had heard of me. The king laughed and said, “Richard Mille — it’s my favourite watch!” And he pulled up his sleeve to show Nadal his RM 009 tourbillon. He explained how much he loved the watch and how comfortable he found it, and this ended up being an important moment that would lead to our collaboration.