Spaniard Rafael Nadal has played down his title expectations ahead of the Mutua Madrid Open as he prepares to return to the ATP Tour after a six-week injury layoff.
The World No. 4 will be aiming to clinch his sixth trophy at the ATP Masters 1000 event in the Spanish capital. Due to a rib injury, he has not played since Taylor Fritz ended his perfect season in the Indian Wells final in March.
“I have improved compared to when I arrived here [in Madrid], but I still have ups and downs, because it’s been a long time. It’s going to be a difficult week,” Nadal said. “That’s the reality. We have to be calm, we have to accept that things are going to be far away from perfection, but then onwards we just have to fight. I’m recovered. I feel good.
“It’s a very tight tournament for me,” Nadal added when asked about his preparation time. “We will have to take the positives and perhaps I will have good moments playing on court. We have to have some patience. We have to be humble day after day to see what happens. I will try to improve every day.”
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While the 35-year-old has found the timing of his injury setback frustrating, he stated that his body has now recovered. Nadal will face Alexander Bublik or Miomir Kecmanovic in his opening match and is seeded to meet #NextGenATP Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz in a blockbuster quarter-final.
“It’s difficult when you have these injuries in the middle of the season, it’s difficult to recover. But my ideas are very clear,” Nadal said. “I know that the moment has been negative. A goal for me is to be able to accept what happened and be able to play as best as possible. I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m also confident. I know that things started very well at the beginning of the season.”
The Spaniard captured a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and also clinched trophies at the Melbourne Summer Set and Abierto Mexicano Telcel presentado por HSBC in the opening two months of the season.
Although Nadal is pleased with his career-best start to a year (20-1), he is, like any great champion, focusing on the future. Triumphing in Madrid would draw him level with Novak Djokovic on a record-equalling 37 Masters 1000 crowns.
“In our sport, there is not much time to think about Australia anymore,” Nadal said. “Australia was amazing, without a doubt, one of the most emotional moments in my tennis career. But during the past month, I was thinking about my injury.
“It is not a sport that you have time to celebrate a lot of victories if you want to keep being competitive for the next couple of events, and that’s what I try to do, even like this.”