French Open 2013: Rafael Nadal admits surprise at recent success ahead of meeting with Novak Djokovic

The Spaniard only recently returned from a long term injury

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Rafael Nadal will bid to reach his eighth French Open final when he meets Novak Djokovic in Paris today, but the real victory for the Spaniard is being on the court.

Nadal is playing at his first grand slam tournament since Wimbledon last year when, after a shock second-round defeat by Lukas Rosol, he did not play again for seven months because of knee problems.

The 27-year-old had hoped to return at the end of last season but was forced to push the date back until February, when he played in a small tournament in Chile.

Nadal was still feeling his knee and unsure what to expect, so losing in the final to Horacio Zeballos was an encouraging outcome.

Since then, his record has been little short of astonishing, with six titles from seven events played, his only defeat coming against world number one Djokovic in Monte Carlo.

Nadal even won his first tournament not on clay since 2010 in Indian Wells, all of which was far from his mind when he took those first tentative steps back.

He said: "I didn't have ambition to win Roland Garros, I didn't have ambition to win Monte Carlo, I didn't have ambition to win Indian Wells.

"My only ambition was to feel myself competitive another time, feel myself happy to play tennis another time, and try to play with no limitations.

"For me, just to be here is great news. To play since I came back nine tournaments and be in the final of eight and win six and be in another semi-finals another time is just much more than one person or any person of my team dreamed.

"I just can say thank you to everybody who really supported me, everybody who helped me during this period of time. That was not easy for me. I came back fresh mentally with motivation and with positive energy. That's all.

"I am able to play with less pressure than before because I know from where I came here, from a very low situation, very low moments, so everything is positive for me."

Nadal has famously lost only one match at Roland Garros, to Robin Soderling in 2009, but that record is likely to be severely tested by Djokovic today.

The world number one lost to Nadal in the final here last year despite a run of eight games in a row but has won eight of their last 11 matches including the most recent one in Monte Carlo.

There is plenty at stake in the second semi-final as well, with David Ferrer looking to reach a first grand slam final and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga bidding to end France's 25-year wait for a male finalist.

Meanwhile, the women's final tomorrow will be between defending champion Maria Sharapova and world number one Serena Williams, who lost only 16 points in beating Sara Errani 6-0 6-1.