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Rafael Nadal is keen to repeat the victory he managed in the tournament in the capital last year.
Rafael Nadal is keen to repeat the victory he managed in the tournament in the capital last year.

New year and new hopes for Federer and Nadal

For sports fans, there can surely be no better way than to usher in 2011 with the latest instalment of the greatest rivalry on court.

ABU DHABI // When the sun goes down tonight, for the final time in 2010, tennis fans and those lucky enough to have ringside seats at the final of the Mubadala Tennis Championship tomorrow will hope Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have safely negotiated their way through their respective semi-finals to set up a mouth-watering showdown.

For sports fans, there can surely be no better way than to usher in 2011 with the latest instalment of the greatest rivalry on court.

The Abu Dhabi tournament proved to be the springboard for a year of tremendous success for Nadal.

The Spaniard beat Robin Soderling in last year's final and then went from strength to strength.

He was champion at three of this year's four grand slams, including a first US Open, won 71 of his 81 matches and stretched his lead at the top of the rankings.

He clinched three Masters crowns as well to banish the emotionally draining memories of 2009, when severe tendinitis and the collapse of his parent's marriage undermined his performances.

The one grand slam title to elude Nadal - the Australian Open - was won by Federer who later silenced all those who felt his powers were on the wane by winning the season-ending World Tours Finals.

The two great rivals spoke at the Zayed Sports City Tennis Complex yesterday ahead of their semi-final matches today.

"For me, 2010 in general was the most emotional year of my tennis career," Nadal said.

"It was fantastic for me and I will always have some unforgettable memories of this year.

"That year [2009] was a really emotional year. It was not easy for me, lots of problems injuries. But last year I came back and played the best tennis of my life.

"It was fantastic to come back at the highest level and become a better player."

Federer is also hoping the competition in the capital will set him up for a new season in which he will be bidding to reclaim his world No 1 ranking.

"In general, I thought it [2010] was another good year," said the Swiss, who has won a record 16 grand slam titles.

"Maybe, in other years I could have been world No 1 if Rafa wouldn't have won three grand slams."

Nadal is keen for a similarly positive start to the New Year as he defends his Abu Dhabi crown at the US$250,000 (Dh918,250m) event.

"For me it's a pleasure to be here in Abu Dhabi," he said.

"It's the perfect place to start the new season. I will just try my best to find good feelings and play well.

"After that we will see what will happen. All the players here are good, so its very well if I had a chance to be in the final match.

"I am feeling good and looking forward to playing good in Abu Dhabi, then Doha and then Australia.

"After that I have a rest."

The biggest obstacle in the Spaniard's search for success will be Federer. And the Swiss is ready to take on the challenge.

"Winning one grand slam and the World Tour Finals usually puts you in a really good position to get to world No 1, but Rafa has had similar years and he also finished No 2 in the world," Federer said.

"So at the moment, you really need something extra special to be at the top, which I think is great for the game and he had an exceptional season.

"I'm pretty happy with the way I played. I had some tough losses this season, but at the same time I was able to turn around some big matches that were really key and important to get back on track. I thought I had a great end to the season."

And the way the new season unfolds could well be determined here in Abu Dhabi.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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