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Nerves are normal, says Nadal


 

Originally published on: 31/08/11 12:01

Rafael Nadal turned up at Flushing Meadows a year ago intent on clinching the lone Grand Slam title missing from his set. Ranked at world No.1 and a heavy favourite for the title after winning the 2010 Roland Garros and Wimbledon crowns, he dropped serve just five times in seven matches to score his first US Open title and complete the career slam.

Fast-forward a year and the scene has changed somewhat for the defending champion, even if he has added another French Open crown to his burgeoning collection. Last year’s defeated finalist Novak Djokovic is now the favourite for the big apple’s greatest prize and Rafa, now the world No.2, finds himself chasing the shadow of a man he has lost to in five finals this year.

One constant, between this year and last, is that Nadal made a tentative start – albeit in a straight sets victory – in his Flushing Meadows opener, just as he had 12 months ago in a testing 7-6(4) 7-6(4) 6-3 victory over world No.93 Teymuraz Gabashvili. This year, he dropped serve on six occasions – more than in the entire 2010 tournament – to the very same Andrey Golubev who had only recently come off a 17-match losing streak on the ATP Tour.

“I was nervous today,” admitted the Mallorcan. “But it’s normal to start a tournament like this. “He didn’t help because he played very fast all the time. He was trying to do a winner on almost every shot. So it was difficult for me to find some rhythm.

“It’s a positive start winning in straight sets, even if it was unbelievable that I did. I’m happy for the victory and happy to come back here to New York. I don’t think I played that bad, but the mental part was positive tonight. The tennis for sure can improve, I have to play a little bit more inside the court, but I am confident I can do it.”

While the 25-year-old acknowledges that his serve is never going to be big enough to carry him through matches, he admits that tight serving – along with his trusty baseline game – is a necessary combination if he is to secure a repeat triumph on the Flushing Meadows DecoTurf.

“The serve was important part of my game last year. The serve helped me a lot to win the tournament, but I won the tournament because I was playing fantastic from the baseline. My game is from the baseline. My serve is never going to be huge I know that. I can improve my serve and that is what I am doing. I lost my serve six times [against Golubev], and in my opinion, it was not the fault of my serve! He was returning very fast all the time. Sometimes I was hitting very good serves – 126-128mph – and the ball was coming back unbelievably fast!”

Nadal has played just two tournaments since losing to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, losing to Ivan Dodig in his opener in Montreal before falling to Mardy Fish in the quarter-finals in Cincinnati, but the Spaniard is feeling in fine fettle in New York.

“I had a fantastic week of practice here, much better than the previous tournaments,” he said. “The confidence doesn’t come like this (clicks fingers), you have to spend hours on court, competing and winning matches. But I’m very happy to be through and to be playing better.”

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