Monday, November 29, 1999

Nadal eager to carry on where he left off

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Rafael Nadal crushed all in his path as he bulldozed through the claycourt season but only a full-tilt Wimbledon challenge next week will provide unequivocal proof that the Spaniard is back at the peak of his powers.From the moment he turned professional Nadal has been too good for pretty much everybody on red dirt but it was his breathtaking ascent to Wimbledon champion in 2008 that marked him down as a player ready to end Roger Federer's domination.After 2009 turned into a bad year, Nadal is now firing on all cylinders and has set his sights on reclaiming the title he was unable to defend 12 months ago through injury.Six-times champion Roger Federer stands in his way, so too do American powerhouse Andy Roddick and Britain's Andy Murray, not to mention several other dangerous grasscourt grazers.All eyes will be on Nadal, though, to see if he can pick up where he left off in 2008 when he illuminated the Centre Court gloom to leave Federer shuffling off into the shadows.There is no doubt that being denied the chance to defend his title last year by his aching knees was one of the lowest moments of Nadal's career."I'm not going thinking about I was the champion two years ago," Nadal said at Queen's Club last week where he won a couple of matches before losing to close friend Feliciano Lopez."A lot of things change. But like I did every year, I'll try to arrive in my best condition. Last year it wasn't possible. I'm going to try and adapt to the grass as fast as possible."The prospect of Nadal and Federer coming face to face to contest a grand slam final again is mouthwatering, particularly as the pause button has been pressed on their rivalry.Their recent meeting in the Madrid final was their first clash for a year and only their third duel since Nadal's stunning five-set victory on a near-dark Wimbledon Centre Court in 2008.An anticipated French Open showdown was sabotaged when 16-times grand slam champion Federer lost to Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals, the first time in 24 grand slam tournaments that he had failed to reach at least the semi-finals.Federer's year has been littered with defeats since he won the Australian Open and those looking for signs of decline gained further encouragement when he was beaten by Lleyton Hewitt in the Halle grasscourt final last Sunday.The 28-year-old Swiss has remained sanguine despite some uncharacteristic defeats against players he once had in his pocket.Federer is keenly aware of his own place in the tennis record books and one more title at Wimbledon would match American Pete Sampras's modern era record of seven.MURRAY'S QUESTWhile a fourth Federer/Nadal Wimbledon final would be popular for neutrals, Murray will once again whip up British hype as he begins the annual quest of trying to end the constant repetition of the fact that Fred Perry was the last British man to win here, in 1936.Since losing to Federer in the Australian Open final, world number four Murray has under-achieved.The 23-year-old, who was stopped in the semi-finals last year by Roddick, has been touted by all and sundry as a grand slam champion waiting to happen but so far he has not delivered."My tennis is there. I just need to make sure I find it in time for Wimbledon," Murray, who contested the first match to be played after dark under Centre Court's new roof last year, said."That's where it's most important for me to play well."Roddick, who lost a 30-game fifth set to Federer in last year's final, has many fans in London and will once again bring his heavy weaponry, chiefly his serve, to the party.This time the American may even have some back-up in the shape of Sam Querrey, fresh from his Queen's Club triumph, and John Isner, both of whom can do damage with their serves and pounding forehands.Real experts on grass are few and far between. Former champion Hewitt fits that description and the Australian, bumped up to 15th in the seedings after his triumph in Halle, should survive into the latter stages.French Open runner-up Soderling, of Sweden, is also long overdue a decent run on grass while Frenchman Richard Gasquet will be a dangerous floater as he climbs back up the rankings. (Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email
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