Rafael Nadal insists his appetite has not been sated by completing a career Grand Slam with victory at the U.S. Open last month, and intends to prove it at this week’s Japan Open.
World No. 1 Nadal beat Novak Djokovic at Flushing Meadows to finally capture the one major title that had eluded him throughout his illustrious career, making him the youngest player to win all four majors in the Open era.
But the 24-year-old Spaniard on Monday brushed off suggestions that he would be content to bask in the glory for the rest of the season, setting his sights on victory in Tokyo over the coming week.
“It wouldn’t change my mind whether I won the U.S. Open or lost, but for sure it was an important victory in my career,” Nadal said at a news conference at Ariake Colosseum. “But it’s not going to change my goal, and my goal was always to keep improving every day. That’s what I want to keep trying to do.”
Nadal faces a strong challenge in his Japan debut from American Andy Roddick, defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Frenchman Gael Monfils, and starts his campaign on Tuesday against Colombian Santiago Giraldo. Nadal arrived in Tokyo on Sunday after losing in the semifinals of the Thailand Open to compatriot Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, but the world’s top player is not about to press the panic button after one defeat.
“It’s difficult to change strategy in two days, but you can see how I was playing in Bangkok,” he said. “If you see how I lost that match, it’s difficult to say I have to change something. The only thing was maybe to play a little bit more aggressive.
“Every time when you arrive at a tournament you need time to adapt, and I’ve only had one day. I hope to be ready for tomorrow. It’s important to be focused tomorrow, because Giraldo is a very good player and very dangerous.”
Nadal has enjoyed a hugely successful year, returning from an injury-plagued 2009 to regain his French Open and Wimbledon crowns before finally laying his hands on the U.S. title. The Spaniard says his physical problems are now firmly behind him, and pinpoints his first victory of the year at the Monte Carlo Masters in April as the moment everything clicked into place.
“Even if I didn’t win a tournament before Monte Carlo, my level was high and I had a few chances to win a tournament before then,” he said. “All that remained was the confidence, and when I won in Monte Carlo everything changed. I got that confidence and I started to play better in the important moments.”
Nadal has since gone from strength to strength to win six titles this year and cement his place on top of the world rankings, but being No. 1 does not mean he can afford to relax.
“I think everybody feels pressure,” he said. “I think it’s part of the game and I’m not an exception. When I am on court I feel pressure, but you can feel pressure in a negative way or a positive way.
“After the season that I had, it’s difficult to say I feel a lot of pressure in a negative way because the season is going to be unbelievable for me even if I lose every match in every tournament in the last four or five tournaments of the year. I want to do it well in every place in every match, and for that reason I feel pressure every time I go on court.”
But if Nadal’s rivals are beginning to believe he is superhuman, the normally ice-cool Spaniard did reveal one chink in his armor when asked about his journey from Bangkok to Tokyo.
“During the flight we had a thunderstorm,” he said. “I was a little bit scared. I didn’t sleep so much.”
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