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Nadal In Prime Position Entering Clay Swing

Miami, U.S.A.

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal finished runner-up for a fourth time in Miami.

Despite his heavy defeat to Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s Sony Open final, Rafael Nadal was upbeat about the first quarter of the 2014 ATP World Tour season and is set to enter the coming European clay-court swing with confidence. A winner of 43 clay-court titles, including eight of the past nine Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where he will next compete, Nadal will defend his hold on the No. 1 Emirates ATP Rankings against the Serbian during the swing.

After Miami, Djokovic moved to first place ahead of Nadal in the Emirates ATP Race to London. The Race measures only results from 2014 and is an indicator of who will finish the season No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, which reflects a player’s performance over the previous 52 weeks.

“I had a good start of the season, winning two tournaments, playing Grand Slam final, Masters 1000 final,” said Nadal. “It’s great I am [near] the top of the Race arriving to the clay-court season.”

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The World No. 1 reached the final in four of the five tournaments he contested to start 2014. He returned from a back injury suffered at the Australian Open to win the Rio Open, and also rebounded in fine form in Miami following a third-round exit at the BNP Paribas Open. 

He lost just nine games total through his first three matches and came through a quarter-final battle with Milos Raonic, before being relegated to runner-up status for a fourth time in Miami. He also reached the final in 2005, ’08 and ’11.

“No frustration. That's tennis. That's the sport,” said Nadal, who joked that he once again expected to compete in the final in three years’ time. “Sometimes you just accept the challenge of playing in the best tournaments of the world against the best players of the world. Today Novak played at very high level in my opinion and was better than me.”

Since his victory in the US Open final last September, Nadal has now dropped six straight sets against his Serbian rival. When asked if he was glad that Djokovic existed, Nadal, who still leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head 22-18, responded with a laugh, “No. I like challenges, but I am not stupid.”

“Playing against him is the worst thing that can happen for me, because in general, he has a better return than my one, he has a better serve than my one in this surface, especially,” he elaborated. “And the things that I can be same level with him or better than him is when the rally is going and when the point is becoming intense, and I was able to hit maybe with a little bit high intensity sometime as I did last year in the US Open or in Canada.

“Was not that day. On the rally points I feel I was in tough conditions, in negative conditions, and this is impossible to play against him when you have that feeling.”

Despite the loss, Nadal drew confidence from his overall performance in Miami. “It’s a positive week for me after everything,” he said. “Losing early in Indian Wells and be able to play the final here, I had a lot of points for me, a few good matches, confidence again to start the very important part of the season for me.”

Nadal could add another chapter to his rivalry with Djokovic at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, which kicks off the European clay swing in two weeks. Djokovic ended Nadal’s eight-year reign at the clay-court Masters 1000 tournament last year, with a 6-2, 7-6(1) victory in the final.

“I’m gonna keep working hard to try to be at very high level for next time,” said Nadal. “Now we start the clay court season, and I need to be 100 per cent to make a little bit the difference there, to try to be aggressive, to try to move myself very well on clay, and to try to find the best feeling possible as soon as possible.”

Nadal is approaching his 300th match win on clay, with a 298-21 record on the surface. During last year’s European spring swing, he triumphed in Barcelona, Rome and Madrid before winning his eighth Roland Garros title.

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