ABU DHABI // Rafael Nadal had a wonderful time when he spent the last New Year's holiday in Abu Dhabi. Meeting Shakira, one of his pop idols, at the Emirates Palace was the highlight; meeting Andy Murray in a splendidly entertaining final of the Capitala Championships at Zayed Sports City pushed it close.
"I loved the tournament," said the former world No 1, who regarded the high-class exhibition involving his arch rival Roger Federer and the eventual winner Murray as crucial to his preparations for the Australian Open at which he overcame Federer in one of their many epic finals. "I was feeling great during the Abu Dhabi event and that definitely helped me for Melbourne," said the Spaniard. "The crowds were really supportive which made it even more enjoyable.
"I will definitely have the same approach at the start of the new season. Abu Dhabi is a big part of that. Let see what happens but one thing for sure is that I will be trying my best." Nadal is seeded to meet Federer in the final of the six-man exhibition event, which starts on Thursday. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Robin Soderling and Stanislas Wawrinka are also in the line-up for the event's second year, along with Nikolay Davydenko, making his second visit to the UAE capital.
"We have a very healthy rivalry," said Nadal, who was unable to keep that rivalry at its most intense during the second half of 2009 because of a series of fitness problems. Hoping his suspect knees are now back in top shape, he is aiming to earn back the top ranking from the sublime Swiss. "I think Roger is probably the best player ever," said Nadal. "He is simply amazing. I feel lucky - and unlucky - to have played at the same time as him.
"I have been able to defeat him many times but he has also done the same to me. We both know that one small mistake can decide things when we meet." Nadal's dominance on clay until this year's shock Roland Garros defeat by Soderling has restricted Federer's impact in the French Open, the Swiss capitalising this year on the elimination of his nemesis by completing what looked like proving an elusive career Grand Slam.
Similarly Federer's outstanding record at the other slams has prevented Nadal from taking more than one title at Wimbledon and Melbourne Park and failing to win at all at Flushing Meadows. "I have always said that I will try to win the US Open to complete my set," Nadal added. Nadal was non-commital about his principal ambition for 2010. Re-establishing his King of Clay reputation is a priority but he also enjoyed his spell at the head of the rankings. "Normally one thing comes with the other, so it is hard to choose between those two goals," he said.