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Nadal Drawing On Special Desert Memories

Indian Wells, U.S.A.

Nadal© BNP Paribas OpenRafael Nadal talks to the media ahead of his Indian Wells title defence.

Twelve months ago, Rafael Nadal’s meteoric comeback was just about to go to a new level when he added to his sweep of clay-court titles in Latin America by lifting the trophy at the BNP Paribas Open with victory over Juan Martin del Potro.

It was one of five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies that Nadal would win in 2013. Add to that two Grand Slam titles at Roland Garros and the US Open, and the Spaniard found himself back atop the Emirates ATP Rankings by October, having only returned in February after a seven-month injury absence.

Looking back, Nadal commented, “It was a very emotional moment for me, winning on hard court again and winning a Masters 1000 after having been out of tennis for so long. It gave me a lot of positive energy to continue fighting, continue practising hard. I believed more that I was ready to be back and ready to compete against everybody again. I will never forget what happened here, for sure. It was one of my most special titles.”

The Mallorcan is back at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, where he is due to open his campaign against Radek Stepanek at the weekend, looking to win his third ATP World Tour title of the season, following victories in Doha (d. Monfils) and Rio de Janeiro (d. Dolgopolov). By anyone’s standards, it has been a very strong start to the season, but for Nadal there has been one major disappointment that hasn’t been so easy to shrug off as he prepares for March Mania on the ATP World Tour.

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After beating Roger Federer in the Australian Open semi-finals, the 27-year-old Nadal looked poised to win his 14th Grand Slam championship when he went up against first-time finalist Stanislas Wawrinka in the title match. But a back injury incurred at the last moment, coupled with brilliance from an inspired Wawrinka, saw Nadal lose in four sets at Melbourne Park.

“I'm still very disappointed,” confessed Nadal on Thursday. “It's part of tennis, but it was one of the toughest moments in my career. Getting to the final of a Grand Slam and spending one hour and half there. Mentally, how was that? It was tough being there for 90 minutes knowing that you will not win. But not winning was not the worst thing. The worst thing was knowing I could not compete. 

“When you are losing and competing, that's part of sport. This loss was worse for me than 2012 and the six hours against Novak [Djokovic]. This one was much more disappointing because I didn't compete. I did everything right to be there and compete in the final, and I couldn't. Wawrinka was playing unbelievable. I don't know if I would have had the chance to win that match because he was playing amazing. 

A Great Loser?
“I am a great loser. Normally after a few hours I forget about the losses and look straight to the next thing, but after this tournament it took a little bit more time. But here we are, and the most important thing is my back is healthy.”

Leading into the BNP Paribas Open, there has been much talk about the stacked top half of the draw. Top seed Nadal is bidding to win the desert crown for the fourth time, but will have to come through a half that features Wawrinka, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Jerzy Janowicz if he is to reach the final.

Nadal, though, would not be drawn on the difficulties that lie ahead, refusing to look past a second-round encounter with Stepanek. It is a strategy, he insisted, that has served him well throughout his career.

“The toughest player [in the draw] is always the first one, for the moment,” said Nadal. “This is a Masters 1000 and you are playing against the best players in the world. There's no chance to think about the later rounds before you've won the first one.

“Throughout my career, I've always gone on court in every match giving my opponent 100 per cent respect. You can lose to anyone, and I accept that. It's sport. Sooner or later you are going to lose. You have to be ready for everything.”

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