Nadal: I'm not obsessed with beating Djokovic

The Spaniard has suffered at the hands of the world No 1 this season but he still believes in himself

Rafael Nadal goes into next week's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London as world No 2 and French Open champion, having banked prizemoney of $6.4m (£4m) this year, not counting his appearance fees and endorsements.

Next month he has the chance to finish his year by leading Spain to glory on home soil in the Davis Cup final against Argentina.

Asking Nadal at the O2 Arena yesterday whether he felt like the forgotten man of tennis might therefore have seemed absurd, but there is no escaping the fact that the 25-year-old Spaniard's star has waned. Twelve months ago he lost to Roger Federer in the final here at the end of a momentous season in which he won three Grand Slam titles and became only the seventh man in history to win all four of the sport's greatest prizes.

When the season-ending finale gets under way tomorrow, however, Nadal will be the least fancied of the sport's fab four. Federer and Andy Murray, who have won five tournaments between them since the US Open, are the favourites, while Novak Djokovic, despite his recent physical struggles, has been the season's outstanding player.

Nadal, who skipped last week's Paris Masters after a lacklustre showing in the Asia swing, has had a lean year by his own standards. His haul of three titles (French Open, Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open) is his smallest since his breakthrough season in 2004, which was also the last campaign in which he won titles only on clay. He has not won a tournament for five months and, after averaging three Masters Series titles per year for the last six seasons, has won only one in 2011.

So does he feel like the forgotten man? "Maybe you have this feeling, but I don't," Nadal said. "I played in the final of the last three Grand Slams and I've had a good season. I lost a few important matches this season, but I won a few ones too. I'm happy about my year. I didn't have a perfect year, but I've had a very good year. I've been out of competition for a little while and that's probably why the focus is on others."

The reason for Nadal's comparative lack of success is not so much "others" as one man: Djokovic. Until this year Nadal had beaten the Serb in 16 of their 23 meetings and had never lost to him in 11 matches on clay or grass. Djokovic's only successes had come on hard courts, but even on his least favourite surface the Spaniard had won their last two matches, at last year's US Open and World Tour Finals.

Everything changed this year. The two men have met six times in six finals – on clay, hard courts and grass – and Djokovic has won them all. A year ago Nadal had an exceptional record in finals – 43 wins and only 12 losses – but he has now lost eight of his last 11.

Nadal said that Djokovic had played "probably the highest level of tennis that I ever saw". However, when asked whether he had talked to Toni, his uncle and coach, about what he needed to do to turn around his record against the Serb, Nadal insisted: "I'm not working every day thinking about Novak. I'm working and thinking about what I need to do to keep improving, to be a better player. That's what I've done all my career and what I want to keep doing.

"Novak had an unbelievable season. What he did is very difficult to repeat. His level of tennis was very, very high. He beat me and he was playing better than me. That's why he was able to win almost every match during the season.

"I can talk with Toni, I can talk with a lot of people, but at the end of the day what I have to do is work hard to keep improving. If I improve, he's not going to be at this level all his career and the rest of the players will have chances. So Djokovic is not a goal for me. A goal is to be a better player than I was last year. Later we will see if that's enough."

He added: "For me the important thing is to keep improving the one or two things that I think I lost a little bit in moments this year. I need to come back, to have a bit more rhythm in my legs, to play well longer than I did this year. I was able to play very well, but sometimes I played a bit more up and down during matches than in other seasons. And at times my serve did not work well enough."

Nadal said that losing his world No1 ranking to Djokovic hurt much less than being beaten by him in six finals. "I'm happy being No 2," he said. "What makes me feel happy is being competitive against everybody and, when I am travelling to a tournament, feeling ready to win it and to have good chances against everybody."

As for his own chances here, Nadal acknowledges that playing indoors on a hard court will favour his main rivals. "Roger is winning and Andy had a very good season in Asia, winning three tournaments," Nadal said. "He lost a tough match against Berdych in Paris, but he's doing really well. And Djokovic must have unbelievable confidence."

Nadal said it had been important for him to take a recent break as he will be going straight into his off-season training camp after the Davis Cup final in a fortnight's time. The break also gave him a chance to live up to the promise he had made to go to Disneyland Paris.

"I went with all my family, all my cousins," he said. "There were 20 of us. I invited them a year and a half ago, but I didn't have the chance to go there because of the calendar. But I felt that was the right moment and it was very, very positive. I watched all my small cousins enjoying it a lot there and that made me happy."

Rafa: In Numbers

50: Percentage of matches Nadal has won at the ATP World Tour Finals, compared with 83% of games across his career

2010: The only previous year Nadal reached the ATP World Tour final – losing to Roger Federer 6-3, 3-6, 6-1

20: Career finals lost by Nadal – six coming against Federer

7: Finals Nadal has lost this year (of 10), including six to Novak Djokovic

Finals: Order of play

Tomorrow: 12.15: D Nestor (Canada) and M Mirnyi (Belarus) v R Bopanna (India) and A Qureshi (Pakistan).

Not before 14.00: R Federer (Switzerland) v J-W Tsonga (France).

18.15: M Llodra (France) and N Zimonjic (Serbia) v M Fyrstenberg and M Matkowski (Poland).

Not before 20.00: R Nadal (Spain) v M Fish (US).

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' is based on historical events
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil