Nadal out to halt decline
Rafael Nadal goes into the ATP World Tour finals in London as world No 2 and French Open champion, having banked prize money of $6.4m this year, and that's not counting his appearance fees and endorsements.
Next month he has the chance to finish his year by leading Spain to glory on home soil in the Davis Cup final against Argentina.
Yet there is no escaping the fact that the 25-year-old Spaniard's star has waned. Twelve months ago, he lost to Roger Federer in the final here at the end of a momentous season in which he won three Grand Slam titles and became only the seventh man in history to win all four of the sport's greatest prizes.
When the season-ending finale gets under way tomorrow, however, Nadal will be the least fancied of the sport's fab four. Federer and Andy Murray, who have won five tournaments between them since the US Open, are the favourites, while Novak Djokovic has been the season's outstanding player.
Nadal has had a lean year by his own standards. His haul of three titles (French Open, Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open) is his smallest since 2004, which was also the last campaign in which he won titles only on clay. He has not won a tournament for five months and, after averaging three Masters Series titles per year for the last six seasons, has won only one in 2011.
So does he feel like the forgotten man? "Maybe you have this feeling, but I don't," Nadal said. "I played in the final of the last three Grand Slams and I've had a good season. I'm happy about my year. I didn't have a perfect year, but I've had a very good year."
The reason for Nadal's comparative lack of success is not so much "others" as one man: Djokovic. Until this year, Nadal had beaten the Serb in 16 of their 23 meetings and had never lost to him in 11 matches on clay or grass.
Djokovic's only successes had come on hard courts, but even on his least favourite surface the Spaniard had won their last two matches, at last year's US Open and World Tour finals.
Everything changed this year. The two men have met six times in six finals and Djokovic won them all. A year ago Nadal had an exceptional record in finals, but he has now lost eight of 11.
Nadal said Djokovic had played "probably the highest level of tennis that I ever saw". However, when asked whether he had talked about what he needed to do to turn around his record against the Serb, Nadal insisted: "I'm not working every day thinking about Novak. I'm working and thinking about what I need to do to keep improving.
"Novak had an unbelievable season. What he did is very difficult to repeat. His level of tennis was very, very high. He beat me and he was playing better than me. That's why he was able to win almost every match during the season.
Nadal said losing his world No 1 ranking to Djokovic hurt less than being beaten by him in six finals. "I'm happy being No 2," he said. "What makes me feel happy is being competitive against everybody and, when I am travelling to a tournament, feeling ready to win it and to have good chances."
As for his own chances here, Nadal acknowledges that playing indoors on a hard court will favour his main rivals. "Roger is winning and Andy had a very good season in Asia, winning three tournaments," Nadal said. "He lost a tough match against Berdych in Paris, but he's doing really well. And Djokovic must have unbelievable confidence." (© Independent News Service)
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