Six months of hell but I'll be back, says Nadal

Spaniard can still end year as No 1 despite injuries, parental split and few titles

When Andy Roddick was asked before last year's end-of-season championships about Roger Federer's "average year" he turned on his questioner. "All I know is that if someone calls Roger average they had better be really, really, really good at what they do," Roddick said. "I don't know what else the guy needs to do to get the respect that he deserves. I'll take his average year any time."

As the game's best players prepared for this year's finale – the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals begin today at London's O2 Arena – it was Federer's turn to respond to questions about Rafael Nadal, who has not won a title for six months and spent a frustrating summer nursing knee and stomach injuries.

"I don't think anyone should exaggerate and say Rafa has had a terrible year," Federer said. "He had an incredible first five months of the year. He dominated the first part of the year. I don't think his year has been that tough, although, on a personal level, I heard what happened there, with his parents' divorce.

"From a tennis point of view, OK he missed Wimbledon, but apart from that it's been OK. He won the Australian Open and he has a chance to finish the year as world No 1, which doesn't seem like a horrible scenario to have."

Nadal's last tournament victory came at the Rome Masters in May. His world was turned on its head four weeks later when he was beaten at the French Open – for the first time in 32 matches at Roland Garros – by Robin Soderling, whom he meets again tomorrow. It will be Nadal's first competitive match in Britain this year after he missed Queen's Club and Wimbledon because of tendinitis in his knees.

Nadal says his fitness is now "perfect". Since starting his comeback in August at the Montreal Masters, where he reached the quarter-finals, the world No 2 has reached four semi-finals and one final. Although he has not won a tournament, he points out that this is not his favourite time of the year. "Everyone knows that hard courts aren't my best surface, but I've been doing better in this part of the season than ever before," Nadal said. "Last year I lost in the semi-finals in Madrid and the quarter-finals in Paris. This year I got to the final in Shanghai and the semi-finals in Paris. I've been playing more tournaments at this stage of the year than in the past.

"I know some people look at my record and say I haven't won a tournament for months, but I look at it differently. I look at what I've done in the past and see I've improved. I'm doing much better than I expected when I started my comeback in Montreal. I didn't expect to be competitive in every tournament, but I could have won every tournament I've played."

Nevertheless, the suspicion remains that Nadal is not quite the force of nature he was during his annus mirabilis in 2008. It may be down to the ditching of his sleeveless shirts, but he looks less muscular and intimidating. His recent results are also open to a different interpretation to his own: in Paris, Tommy Robredo and Nicolas Almagro should both have beaten him, while Novak Djokovic appeared to win their semi-final with some ease.

The Spaniard may find it hard to progress beyond the round-robin stage in London. Nikolay Davydenko and Djokovic have beaten him in the last two Masters Series tournaments, while Soderling will be buoyed by his win at the French Open.

Nadal's group may well prove the tougher of the two. Federer, who plays Fernando Verdasco tonight, and Andy Murray, who meets Juan Martin del Potro in the opener, are favourites to emerge from the other section.

Player-by-player guide

Group A

Roger Federer (Switzerland)

Has won title four times but does he still have the hunger after such a successful and emotional year?

Strengths: forehand, variety of serve, coolness under pressure

Weaknesses: impatience, can be frustrated by baseliners

Andy Murray (GB)

Returned from injury lay-off to win Valencia Open a fortnight ago. Refreshed and hungry for success in front of home crowd.

Strengths: backhand, returns, speed

Weaknesses: forehand, occasionally over-cautious approach

Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina)

Won US Open but has done little since. He looks and sounds exhausted.

Strengths: forehand, improved serve

Weaknesses: lack of variety, volleys

Fernando Verdasco (Spain)

Made progress after working on fitness, reaching Australian Open semi-final.

Strengths: forehand, serve

Weaknesses: inconsistency, strategy

Group B

Rafael Nadal (Spain)

Still well short of best after lay-offs with knee and stomach injuries. Next month's Davis Cup final is bigger goal.

Strengths: heavily top-spun

forehand, never-say-die attitude

Weaknesses: serve, sliced backhand

Novak Djokovic (Serbia)

In-form, with only three defeats in last 30 matches, but might run out of gas after mammoth season.

Strengths: all-court game, consistency

Weaknesses: volleys, defensiveness

Nikolay Davydenko (Russia)

Has recovered from early-season injury problems. Reached final last year.

Strengths: speed around court, returns, consistency

Weaknesses: serve, lack of power

Robin Soderling (Sweden)

Earned debut in finals as first reserve after Andy Roddick's withdrawal. Good record on indoor courts.

Strengths: forehand, serve

Weaknesses: mobility, shortage of big-match experience

Paul Newman

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
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.

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015