Aug. 30, 2010— -- World tennis champ Rafael Nadal, whose biceps are practically Spanish national treasures, says the music that turns him on is a world away from the Shakira video that features his rippling muscles.
It's the theme song from "The Phantom of the Opera," called "The Music of the Night." Nadal said, "I love the musical. I was there in New York, watching that I think, six times."
As the U.S. Open got underway, Nadal spoke with Nightline about what drives him to the No. 1 rank and, if he claims victory at this final Grand Slam of 2010, would make him the youngest man ever to secure a career Grand Slam. A player must win all four Grand Slam competitions -- the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open -- over the years for a career Grand Slam and only a handful of other men in history have done it.
When Nadal steps onto the court his is relentlessly focused. He already holds eight Grand Slam titles although never one for the U.S. Open. What is he thinking about?
"Nothing! Try to put the ball inside," Nadal, whose first language is Spanish, told Nightline at a U.S. Open Series event just outside Cincinnati. "The important thing is the shots. It's easier to be a great champion with a lot of shots and nothing of head than a lot of head and nothing of shots."
A clear head is key to delivering the kind of powerhouse shots that he'll need to triumph over his chief rival Roger Federer. Nadal and Federer are the only pair of men to have ever finished five consecutive calendar years as the top two ranked players. Nadal has reclaimed the top spot after winning his fifth French Open on June 7.
Yet the 24-year-old Spaniard known as "Rafa" said he views Federer, 27, of Switzerland, less as an enemy and more as a role model. Nadal told Nightline, "I think to have Roger there was always a reference to improve, and a big motivation to be a better player because you always see a better player than you there."
And despite the fact that Nadal is the man to beat at the U.S. Open, he still thinks Federer is a better player."I am not still thinking. I am sure," he said.
Gentleman enough to praise his arch rival, Nadal is also macho enough to reveal that beneath those awesome pecs beats the heart of a true softie. Nadal, who has a girlfriend, still lives at home with his mom and says he is "very happy" to be there and is intent on learning to keep his room tidier to please her.
Rafael Nadal: Bull On the Court, Softie Everywhere Else
"I think that's one of the things I really have to improve," Nadal said. "My mom really wants to have everything under control and have the house very, very good. I sometimes make her work very difficult."
And then there is the music that gets him pumped up and keeps him coming back for more – Andrew Lloyd Webber's operatic "The Music of the Night." In the play, Broadway's longest running musical, the phantom puts his victim into a type of trance with that song.
"The music – the music I like. I love that music. I don't know, I like the musical, I like the history, everything," said Nadal, whose fans are more likely to link him musically with the video for Shakira's "Gypsy." The steamy YouTube sensation features the sweaty sex symbol entwined with the singer, who he says is only a "friend," and ends with a kiss.
While Nadal sounds like a gentle Renaissance man, he plays tennis like a bull. Some observers say that's why the U.S. Open is the only major tournament that has eluded him, since it comes at the end of the season and he is often worn out. He has been practicing hard for the U.S. Open, which is underway now through Sept. 12 at U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens.
"Oh, I have so much to work on, so much to improve," Nadal told Nightline.
Still, he steps onto the court as the reigning world champion. Doesn't he walk into the game thinking he is going to win?
"I never think I'm going to win," Nadal said. "I always think I can win and I can lose. Only thing I can think is I (am) going to do everything right to try to win."
So the relentless hard work continues for Nadal. Can he keep the momentum?
"I try my best in every moment," said Nadal. "If I can be here 20 years, I'm gonna be here 20 years. If I can be here 15, 15. If I can be here eight, eight. I don't know, I'm going to try my best all my career, and when the body and the mental part says 'Finished,' I'm gonna go home and enjoy a different part of life."