ABU DHABI // Rafael Nadal says he is feeling "great" and raring to go as he raises the curtain on a new tennis year by topping the bill at the Capitala World Championship in Abu Dhabi this weekend. Nadal, who this year has overtaken Roger Federer at the top of the ATP world rankings, suffered a frustrating end to a memorable campaign by missing the Masters Cup in Shanghai and the Davis Cup final in which his Spanish teammates overcame Argentina.
The knee injury and fatigue which combined to keep the powerful Nadal out of those end-of-season showpieces have now faded and he is looking forward to defending his No 1 status in the face of what he expects to be a strong resurgence from Federer and even stiffer challenges from Serbia's Novak Djokovic and Britain's Andy Murray. Federer and Murray are in opposition to Nadal in the star-studded field of six for the three-day spectacular in Zayed Sports City and, despite Murray's steady progress over the past 12 months, Nadal expects Federer to pose the biggest threat to his own No 1 status.
Asked why he fears the Swiss maestro more than any other, Nadal's response was simple: "Because he is Roger Federer." The two are seeded to meet in Sunday's final in what may prove a significant form guide to the forthcoming Australian Open, a grand slam which has so far eluded Nadal but provided rich pickings for Federer in recent years. Nadal, however, refused to make the Melbourne tournament a priority in the new year. "I would take any one of the grand slams," said the man who has made the French Open at Roland Garros his own property on his favourite red clay and who triumphed on the lawns of Wimbledon for the first time last July.
Until this year, the muscular Nadal coped comfortably with the demands that modern day tennis makes on the top players but, having been stopped in his all- conquering tracks on the way to the prestigious Masters Cup in China, he is cautious to avoid similar disappointments in the near future. "Our Players' Council are working on creating a less demanding schedule and I'm sure they are going to make things easier for us," he said. "It was tough for me to be out of action at the end of the year. I would have loved to play the Masters Cup in Shanghai and the Davis Cup final but my body sent messages and I couldn't be there. You have to accept things the way they come."
Nadal, like his rivals in the UAE capital, is a newcomer to Abu Dhabi. "I am really excited," he said. "I have never been there but I have heard a lot of things. I am really taking this trip seriously and will enjoy every minute." firstname.lastname@example.org