Tennis: Nadal admits shot at ninth title no easy task

Rafael Nadal knows he has the skills to be claycourt master again. Photo / AP
Rafael Nadal knows he has the skills to be claycourt master again. Photo / AP

Rafael Nadal admitted yesterday that his incredible 42-match, 10-year unbeaten run at Monte Carlo will end one day, but he is in no hurry to see that day.

The 26-year-old Spaniard, who last lost on the clay of Monte Carlo as a fresh-faced 16-year-old when then-claycourt king Guillermo Coria defeated him in straight sets in the third round, also claimed he is not the clear favourite he has been in the past.

Nadal is bidding for an unprecedented ninth straight title at the Masters event but says his seven-month injury layoff means he cannot be treated as the all-conquering clay Caesar of old.

"I cannot say I'm the biggest favourite to win here again," he said as he prepared for his second-round start after a bye.

"This is not an easy event to win. I don't want to lose perspective, but I don't want to lose either.

"Everything in life finishes some time. Some day the winning will stop - not everything is forever."

Nadal, who won the Indian Wells hardcourt crown three weeks ago and then rested his troublesome knees, remains quietly confident of his abilities on clay, where he has dominated for a decade.

While missing seven months of ATP play during the last half of 2012 and well into this year, he knows he has the skills to step back into his role as claycourt master.

"I want to focus on the tennis day by day," he said. "I don't want to talk knees. If I'm here, I'm here to compete."

Nadal said while ranked fifth in the world, he is not prepared to complain about his ranking.

"You can't be in the top four if you did not play for seven months," he reasoned. "I've always gone day by day and just want to try and keep improving."

Nadal's compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut put out French 11th seed Gilles Simon 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) while, in another first-round upset, Fabio Fognini downed fellow Italian and 15th seed Andreas Seppi, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Ninth-seeded Croatian Marin Cilic avoided a similar fate as he battled back from a set down to beat Horacio Zeballos 6-2, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2, while Canadian 12th seed Milos Raonic advanced over Julien Benneteau of France 6-1, 6-4.

Frenchman Benoit Paire beat Croatian Ivan Dodig 6-4, 6-4 and Edouard Roger-Vasselin beat Dutch qualifier Robin Haase 6-3, 6-2.

Finn Jarkko Nieminen defeated slumping Serb Viktor Troicki 6-1, 6-2, while Russian veteran Nikolay Davydenko dispatched German qualifier Daniel Brands 6-3, 6-4.

World No1 Novak Djokovic was testing his injured ankle for another day after vowing to try to regain fitness in time for a start tomorrow at the event which begins the European clay season. Djokovic hurt his ankle last weekend in Serbia's Davis Cup win over the United States but is recovering faster than expected.

-AFP

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