Rafael Nadal treads lightly on delicate knees as French Open looms

Spaniard reveals big cut in practice routine as he targets an eighth Roland Garros title

Rome

Practice makes perfect, which is one of the reasons why Rafael Nadal continues to play down his chances of adding an eighth French Open to his ever-growing tally of titles next month. The 26-year-old Spaniard, who is the odds-on favourite with most bookmakers to win at Roland Garros, revealed here that he has had to cut down on his practice schedule in order to nurse his troublesome knees through his latest comeback.

Nadal, who begins his quest for a seventh Rome Masters title against Fabio Fognini today, has reached the finals of all seven tournaments he has played, winning five of them, since returning after a seven-month lay-off in February. His only defeats in 34 matches this year were against Horacio Zeballos, in the final of his first tournament in Chile, and against Novak Djokovic in last month's Monte Carlo Masters final.

Although he described his comeback so far as "a dream", Nadal admitted: "I am not practising a lot. I just practised for 50 minutes today. A year ago on a day like today I would practise for nearly two hours. But it seems like that's not decisive because I am able to compete well and keep having chances against the best players and keep having chances to win. The important thing is to adapt yourself to the conditions and accept your situations."

Nadal stressed that he had not returned with his previous levels of form or fitness. "I am still not like I was last year, when I started from the beginning in January and I was able to play for six hours in Australia against the best," he said. "I played at full intensity for six hours [against Djokovic in the Australian Open final]. I was not ready to do that when I came back and I don't know if I am ready to do it today."

The Spaniard, who has played only three-set competitions this year and will need to win seven five-set matches to keep his French Open title, said his level had not been very high in most tournaments since starting his comeback. As for the clay-court season in Europe, Nadal said he had been well below his best in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, though he felt there were times when he had played "at a very high level" en route to the title in Madrid last week.

Nadal's verdict would appear to back up Andy Murray's theory. The Scot, who hopes to celebrate his 26th birthday today with victory over Spain's Marcel Granollers in his opening match, believes that Nadal was so far ahead of everyone else on clay before his lay-off that he has been able to win on his return despite not being at his best.

"Maybe he's not playing as well on clay as he did, say, two years ago, but once he starts to play more and more matches he's going to get up to that level," Murray said. "On this surface he's still a long way ahead of the rest of the pack. His consistency has been very impressive since he came back."

Nadal, however, insisted he had "never had that feeling", which he felt was one of the reasons for his success. "I respect every player," he said. "I don't feel better than the rest. I feel that when I go on the court I can lose or I can win. I take care in every moment in every match. I know when I go on court that anything can happen. For that reason I try to fight for every ball, even if it's in the first round against X player or a final against a very top player."

Djokovic began his Rome campaign with an emphatic victory over Spain's Albert Montañes. The world No 1 went a break down early in the first set but quickly restored order to win 6-2, 6-3. He next faces the winner of today's second-round meeting between Stanislas Wawrinka and Alexandr Dolgopolov. Roger Federer was similarly quick about his work, beating Potito Starace 6-1, 6-2.

Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before