DOHA – Rafael Nadal sounded relieved on Sunday to be flying to Australia in better condition than he might have expected for the first Grand Slam event of the year and one that he described as “strange.”
A fine two-hour final at the Qatar Open, in which the world No. 1 downed Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, dragged some of Nadal’s best tennis from him and gave him a physical and psychological test he certainly needed.
It will have given him confidence that he is in good enough shape to challenge in a week’s time for a major title he has not won for five years.
“It’s difficult because the Australian Open is very early. It would be better to play it a bit later. It can be only the second tournament (of the year) that you are competing in, and it’s one of the most important, so it’s a bit strange,” said Nadal after sealing his 61st career title.
“But it’s strange every year. I hope to have a good week’s preparation in Melbourne and try to adapt.”
Nadal nevertheless reckoned that what he most probably will have to adapt to is good for his style of play — the Melbourne heat makes the balls quicker, and it also makes them bounce more, both characteristics which he believes suit him.
The Spaniard believes, however, that by competing in Doha rather than traveling straight to Australia to practice or to play a tournament there, there are positives and negatives.
The final with Monfils enhanced the positives, and still leaves him, he believes, with enough time to acclimatize after the long journey.
“If you haven’t adapted in six days it means you will never be adapted,” he said.
“But I don’t go thinking about adapting. I think about things I want to get practicing, to be competitive. I want to play the way I did today, and if I can do that more often my game will be at a higher level.
“Today was the first day that I did that (this year) and I want to go on doing it until it becomes natural and normal.”
The things which particularly pleased the Spaniard were playing with a much higher intensity than previously, hitting more ground strokes from inside the baseline — where he can more easily attack — changing direction much better with his forehand drive.
When he does this it can become the most potent weapon in tennis.
“It’s important to have these feelings,” he emphasized. “I played a good match. In the second set I think I played only two bad shots and yet Gael still won it.
“I knew that I had to go for winners and I played much more aggressively today, and that’s important. It’s important to leave this tournament with these feelings.”
He thought for a moment and then he added: “I would rather prefer to arrive in Australia with these feelings. After five matches here I will have positive confidence, but of course it doesn’t guarantee that I will be playing well in Australia.”
The stakes will be high, but Nadal has further reasons for optimism.
They relate to the world No. 1 ranking which he wrenched from Novak Djokovic at the tail end of his remarkable 2013 season.
Djokovic is the Australian Open titleholder, and so has a lot of ranking points to defend.
Nadal, by contrast, missed Melbourne last year because of his troublesome injured knees and has no points to defend.