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Former champion Rafael Nadal practises at the Western & Southern Open.

Nadal Ready To Roll In Cincy

Rafael Nadal returns to Cincinnati for first time since 2013 title run

Success in Cincinnati is a good omen for Rafael Nadal. Last time the Spaniard played in the Western & Southern Open, in 2013, he claimed the title. It meant back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles after winning Montreal the week prior and provided the springboard to clinching a second U.S. Open crown weeks later.

Injury ruled him out of clinching the trifecta of titles last year, but he returns this week having claimed his 67th title at the 500 level in Hamburg after a disappointing second-round exit at Wimbledon. In the Hamburg final he avenged two 2015 losses to Fabio Fognini and despite the tournament being played on clay, it was a big step in helping rebuild his confidence.

“Well it has been an important win for me; obviously it’s a title and a 500 title and at the same time to have the points for the computer (Emirates ATP Rankings) helps for this time of the year,” Nadal said. “Last week was not a negative week in Montreal. I played OK. I played a quarter-final.”

The 29-year-old’s strongest showings on hard-courts this year have been quarter-final finishes at the Australian Open (l. Berdych), Indian Wells (l. Raonic) and the aforementioned loss in Montreal. It was there he fell to World No. 4 Kei Nishikori in straight sets.

“He played very aggressive and he played a great match,” Nadal said. “The first six games of the match were very tough for me. In a normal situation I should go 3-all, not 5-1, but that’s what happened … At the end of the match I was closer, but he was better than me that day, especially in the key moments.”

Nadal can boost his chances of a Top-8 seeding for this year’s U.S. Open with a solid run this week in Cincinnati. He highlighted the importance of finishing with a more positive mindset than when he started in 2015, but that a lull in confidence often made the off-court work more difficult as he fought to regain his place among his top-ranked rivals.

“I have been playing better than the beginning of the season the last couple of months I think even if I lost a few matches that I’m not happy with,” he said. “I have been playing a bit better but every week is a different story … and I know that the work when you are coming from a bad moment, the work is triple. It’s much more mental and tennis work than when you’re in a normal situation or in a good dynamic. So that’s what I’m accepting and doing to try to change the dynamic and to try to feel more confident and comfortable on court.”

Nadal knows better than most players the need for patience in working your way back. He said it was a matter of waiting for opportunities, for the better moments to come. “I hope I have a second part of the season that’s a little bit better than the first,” he said. “Obviously, the second part of the season is a little bit more difficult for me. We don’t have clay out there. For me, more than results, is finishing with the feeling that I did things better, that I was improving in my game.”

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