© Jason Whitman

Rafael Nadal holds a 35-3 record this season.

Nadal On No. 1 Chance: 'It Means A Lot'

Spaniard competing for the first time since Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal is excited at the opportunity to return to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings over the next month, but believes it will not be an easy journey as he looks to prioritise his health.

The Spaniard will climb to top spot if he wins the Western & Southern Open title and current World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev fails to reach the quarter-finals in Cincinnati.

“It means a lot to me to have that opportunity [to rise to No. 1]. Something that I didn’t expect could happen again. The main thing is to stay healthy and play the events that I want to play,” Nadal said in his pre-tournament press conference on Sunday. “I will not play more than what I believe works well for my body.

“I am going to put all my efforts into every single event I play. It is something that doesn’t matter if I have the chance to be No. 1, but I am happy to be in this position and if it happens, I will be very happy.”

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Nadal, who triumphed in Ohio in 2013, is competing at the ATP Masters 1000 event for the first time since 2017 and has not played a match since he was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon last month due to an abdominal injury.

The 36-time Masters 1000 champion will face Borna Coric or a qualifier in his opening clash and knows that it will take time for him to regain his match sharpness, with patience the key.

“You need to know that when you come back after a while that things aren’t going to be perfect,” Nadal said. “You can’t expect to play at an amazing level from the beginning. Knowing that you [need to] be humble enough to fight with the tools that you have at the beginning to win the first match. Then when you win a match or two matches things change and you start to feel competitive again.

“If you are playing well, and I think I am playing more or less ok, you have some good feelings on court. But competition is different and you need to accept that things are going to be difficult, even more so in a Masters 1000 because when you come back, even at a Grand Slam, if you are lucky with the draw, even if you aren’t playing at a high level you have a chance to win a couple of matches. But at a Masters 1000, opponents are very demanding right from the beginning so you need to play at a high level and that is what I am going to try to do.”

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The second seed, who has won four titles in 2022, holding a 35-3 record on the season, suffered an abdominal injury during his quarter-final match against Taylor Fritz at The Championships. The injury forced him to withdraw ahead of his scheduled semi-final clash against Nick Kyrgios and it is a situation he is still monitoring.

“I am happy to be back in Cincinnati after a couple of years without the chance of being able to be here. I had a small tear in the abdomen, so it is dangerous," Nadal said. "The abdominal is a place that is dangerous because on every serve you put a lot of effort there. I am trying to do things properly, trying to be a bit more conservative. I hope I can be ready for the action here.

“I want to play tennis again on the Tour. I am having a good season and I am enjoying it. I want to enjoy this week in Cincinnati,” the Spaniard later added.

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