Rafa: 'I Always Believed'
27-time ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titlist hopes to extend streak in Paris
For Rafael Nadal, the BNP Paribas Masters represents his last chance to extend his streak of 10 straight seasons with at least one ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. Although Nadal, along with Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray, have accounted for 47 of the past 51 ATP Masters 1000 titles, an astonishing figure that dates back to his triumph on the clay of Monte-Carlo in 2010, the Spaniard has been shut out of that category thus far in 2015.
But as he has underlined throughout his post-US Open run, which includes finals in Beijing and Basel, and a semi-final showing in Shanghai, he’s making progress day in, day out, the kind that manifests itself in his ever-increasing on-court confidence.
“I’m just happy for the last three weeks, competing well against very good players and winning against good players, too,” said the World No. 6, who will open his Paris campaign on Tuesday against a familiar opponent, Czech Lukas Rosol, who pushed him to a third-set tie-break in Basel. “I’m happy about the way that I’m practising. It’s important for me not just to practise well, but compete well and last week I competed well again.”
En route to the Swiss Indoors Basel final, Nadal prevailed in a trio of three-setters, eventually falling short to longtime nemesis Federer 6-3, 5-7, 6-3.
Under the guidance of his coach/uncle, Toni Nadal, Rafa has been targeting specific skill sets during this late-season run, including his return game.
“I’m working on things I believe can help in the future,” he explained. “And for the moment, myself and my team is happy with what we’re doing. We practiced three hours every day the last couple of months. Now we’re using our time a little bit differently. So it’s good to practise differently when you feel that you need to improve something.”
By his own lofty standards, 2015 hasn't been an all-out success for the Mallorcan. But just as some began to wonder if Nadal would be among the top eight when the year-end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals rolled around, he indeed qualified. In fact, he’s now climbed to No. 5 in the Emirates ATP Race to London.
“I always believed that I was going to be in the top eight at the end of the season,” Nadal explained. “I’m humble enough to say, ‘Okay, if I keep playing bad, I’ll probably be in trouble.’ But I had the feeling that I was going to play better. I believe my level is to be there in the top eight. So even if I’ve had tough moments this year, the year is long.”
As World No. 1 Djokovic will attest, no one is taking Nadal lightly in Paris.
“Rafa didn’t have a season up to his standards, but he’s finding a way to win and finding a way to get to finals,” said the top-ranked Serb. “You’ve got to give him credit for that. It’s not easy when you’re not feeling that great on the court. He’s said that; everybody knows that. He has a lot of pressure because of the amount of tournaments he has won in his life and the records he has. Of course, he’s expected to reach the semis or finals of each event. He hasn’t done that too many times this year at the biggest events. Nevertheless, he’s still a great champion. He’s still somebody who is always the one to look out for. He’s always one of the biggest candidates to win any tournament on any surface. It doesn’t change much in my eyes.”