Rafael Nadal. (Photo by Loic Baratoux/ABACAPRESS.COM)
World No. 1, Rafael Nadal is hopeful on being fully fit for his opening match at the Nitto ATP Finals on Monday, as the Spaniard bids for his first title at the year-end tournament.
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Nadal’s participation in London was thrown into doubt after the Spaniard withdrew from the Paris Masters just before his semi-final against Denis Shapovalov with an abdominal injury, but he is a lot more positive about his fitness ahead of Monday’s opening match with defending champion, Alexander Zverev.
“It’s a tournament [where] you will face the top guys since the beginning, so you need to be 100 per cent ready,” he said. “But I really hope that I will be able to serve every single day a little better, and my goal is to be on Sunday serving normal”.
“I have good hopes to be 100 per cent ready for Monday,” he said.
Nadal has qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for a record 15th consecutive year, but he has only participated in eight editions due to a poor injury record at the tournament. The great Spaniard has skipped two of the last three editions of the year-end Finals (2016 and 2018), while he pulled out of the 2017 edition after losing to David Goffin in his opening match.
This is one of the very few tournaments he has never won, with his best efforts being runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2013.
“To play here is always a very special thing. [I’m] excited to be back here in London in one of the great events of the year,” Nadal said on Friday. “I’m going to try my best to keep producing chances to compete well, and if I’m competing well, I’m playing at my best, I hope to have my chances to have a good result.”
An intriguing sub-plot at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals is the race for the year-end No. 1 ranking, with Nadal and Novak Djokovic locked in a captivating battle for the prestigious position. Nadal currently holds the advantage, with a 640-point lead over his Serbian rival, but with 1500 points available to an undefeated champion, there’s very much all to play for in London.
Nadal is seeking a fifth year-end No. 1 finish, which will move him level with Djokovic, Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors. Pete Sampras holds the record for most year-end No. 1 finishes with six. The Spaniard admits that he would love to hang on to his ranking, but he insists that his main objective is to stay fit, and give himself a chance to compete.
‘First of all I have to play. It’s true I think I’ve qualified for 15 years but I don’t know how many years I’ve been able to complete the tournament”.
“My personal goal is to try and stay here, to compete here as long as possible. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying to be No. 1 – not at all. I’m not following that goal”.
“I’d love to be equal with Roger and with Novak with the five year-end No. 1 spot for the end of the year. It would be something fantastic for me but honestly I can’t complain. I need to be focused with my real goal. The goal is to put me in a position to play 100%. If that happens my goals will be very different.”
The Spaniard is in Group Andre Agassi, along with young guns, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Zverev, all of whom are aged 23 or below, meaning the world No. 1 is at least 10 years older than every other member of the group. The 33-year-old has always been philosophical about his career, grateful for the opportunity to achieve all that he has over the years, and he was again in reflective mood while speaking about his career over the last decade.
“I am 33 and a half, that’s old, young, old to play tennis, young like a person… I’m happy to be where I am today. For me, it’s a dream come true to be what I am at this moment in my career. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be where I am when [I was] in the position of all of them. But I feel lucky with all the things that happened to me during all these years,” Nadal said.
While he’s had his injury problems in 2019, Nadal has put together another stellar campaign, winning Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros and the US Open to take his tally to 19, just one behind Federer’s all-time record, and adding further titles in Rome and Montreal. He has reached at least the semi-finals in 11 of the 12 tournaments he’s played this year.
Can he finish the season with a flourish by winning a maiden Nitto ATP Finals title, and with it, secure the year-end No. 1 ranking?
The Nitto ATP Finals is live from London from 10-17 November.