x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

'Honoured' Almagro has big shoes to fill as Nadal's replacement

Called in at short notice, all eyes will be weighing the Spaniard and how he does compared to his illustrious compatriot.

Nicolas Almagro faces Janko Tipsarevic today.
Nicolas Almagro faces Janko Tipsarevic today.

ABU DHABI // When the phone call came on Christmas Day, Nicolas Almagro's first instinct was not to leap at the fresh opportunity that was at hand.

He had been called about his possible interest in replacing Spanish countryman Rafael Nadal in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, which was set to begin in two days.

He was enjoying the holiday in Murcia, Spain, where he was kicking back with friends and family."I was taking the coffee," he said.

He would need it. After telling his manager to give him a few moments to see what travel arrangements were possible, he agreed to play, then began a long, red-eyed journey to Abu Dhabi.

"I said to him, let me check the flights and call you back," said Almagro, the world No 11. "It was Christmas. Everything is closed."

He finally arrived at 5am yesterday and slept for a couple of hours before heading to the Zayed Sports City for practice and pre-tournament activities.

Good thing he was given Nadal's opening-round bye and a spot in today's semi-final.

"Otherwise I could not have played," he said.

Almagro said he was completely unaware that he was on the list of possible tournament alternates for injuries and last-minute withdrawals.

"I didn't know nothing," he said. "I thought Rafa would be ready."

Standing in for Nadal, one of the biggest sports figures in his country's history with 11 grand slam titles to his name, seems a bit daunting.

"Rafa for us is amazing," he said. "He's our No 1, he's the best on clay, one of the best on every surface.

"For me, it is an honour, it is special, to be here. We miss him. He's our head. He did many things for the history of Spanish tennis."

Whether he has any inside information or not is debatable, but Almagro made a bold prediction about Nadal's future in the sport. "He is going to come back with the same power and the same mentality as early in his career," he said.

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