When in Rome, Rafael Nadal does not care if he's No 3

 

Rafael Nadal yesterday dropped outside the top two positions in the world rankings for the first time for more than two years, but the 25-year-old insisted that it made no difference to his thinking. "Being No 2 or No 3 isn't going to change my goal," Nadal said as he prepared for his first match here at this week's Rome Masters. "My goal will be the same whether I am No 2, No 3 or No 10."

Nadal, who will play Germany's Florian Mayer tomorrow after a first-round bye, lost his place at No 2 to Roger Federer as a result of his old rival's triumph last week on Madrid's controversial blue clay and his own surprise third-round defeat in the Spanish capital against Fernando Verdasco.

However, Nadal had no desire to go over old ground – "Last week is over" – and said he pays less attention to the world rankings than he does to the "Race for London" table, which shows how many points players have accumulated since the start of the year. The top eight players in the Race qualify for the end-of-season Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London.

The Race currently mirrors the rankings, with Nadal third behind Novak Djokovic and Federer. Nadal said he thought the positions were a fair reflection of the current balance of power, though he wanted to improve his placing by the end of the clay and grass-court seasons, which are usually his most productive period of the year.

"I don't think about Madrid," Nadal said. "I accept that I played badly there and lost because I didn't play the level that I needed to win. I arrive in Rome and it's a tournament that I love. I've always had fantastic feelings from the crowd. It's always big emotions to come back to this fantastic place."

Djokovic described the red clay courts of the Foro Italico as "paradise" after the blue clay of Madrid. With conditions not dissimilar to those in Paris, Rome is always considered the best preparation for the year's second Grand Slam event. Nadal, who has been Rome champion five times, will go to the French Open, which begins on Sunday week, aiming for a seventh victory at Roland Garros in eight years.

This week's competition – the first of this clay-court season in which all the top four players will be competing – could have particularly important consequences for Paris. Only Nadal and Djokovic, who claimed the title in 2008 and 2011, have won here since 2004. Federer has not played in the final since losing a five-hour five-set thriller to Nadal in 2006.

Andy Murray, who lost against Djokovic in the semi-finals 12 months ago, will play his first match this afternoon against David Nalbandian, who beat Spain's Albert Ramos 6-3, 6-4 yesterday. Although Nalbandian is not the force he was and has lost his last four meetings with Murray, the world No 42 includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Janko Tipsarevic and Gilles Simon among his victims this year.

"It's going to be very tough," Nalbandian said. "I know the way that Andy plays. I know that I have to play very well if I'm to have any chance."

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