Nadal resists taking clay reign for granted

No wonder he is called the "king of clay". Rafael Nadal has lost just four of his last 151 matches on his favourite surface, is unbeaten in more than a year and begins his quest for a fourth clay-court title of the season when he plays Jürgen Melzer here today at the Madrid Masters.

The 22-year-old Spaniard can look all but unbeatable on clay but insists that he takes nothing for granted. "Sometimes people have me as the winner before the tournament even starts," he said. "I see the great difficulty in what I am doing and I try to enjoy the success that I am having, this season and last season. It's not going to last for ever, so I have to be grateful for what I have."

While Nadal is pleased to play in his home country, he is not happy with the scheduling of the Madrid Masters. With the French Open less than a fortnight away, the world No 1 believes it would be more appropriate to be playing an event where the conditions were closer to those at Roland Garros.

His wish is likely to be granted in the future, when Madrid is expected to swap places with Rome in the calendar, but for the moment he will have to adapt to the conditions here. Madrid is some 650 metres above sea level and the players say the ball flies appreciably quicker through the air. Nadal believes that gives lesser players an advantage.

"It is much more difficult here because we are finding that it is more difficult to control the ball," he said. "The others can hurt you more with less than they would normally need if we were at a lower altitude on a different surface.

"No matter what happens, I have had a very good clay season and I don't think anything is going to affect my confidence for the French Open, but it is a very important tournament nonetheless and I will do everything possible to play as well as I can. I would love to win because it is a Masters Series and it's here in Madrid at home in Spain."

At least Nadal will not have to play on a different coloured court. There have been suggestions that Madrid would like to change the playing surface to bright blue and one of the practice courts here has been built in the colour.

Nadal is "totally against" the idea. He explained: "The clay season is one of the most historic aspects of the world of tennis. Clay courts are red. They're not blue. That's just show business. The surface has always been red for the clay-court season. The clay-court season is becoming smaller and smaller and if we keep introducing things we only worsen it."

While Nadal and Novak Djokovic play their opening matches today, Andy Murray and Roger Federer were due to make their first appearances last night.

Murray was playing Simone Bolelli for the right to meet Tommy Robredo, who came from a set down to beat Mardy Fish. Robredo, who has already played 25 matches on clay this year (last night was Murray's sixth), has beaten Murray in two of their previous three meetings.

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