tennis

Nadal facing hard facts: “My priority is to play Indian Wells”

With lingering pain in his knee, Nadal is hesitant about switching to harder courts

Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return to Diego Sebastian Schwartzman of Argentina at the Mexico ATP Open.
Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return to Diego Sebastian Schwartzman of Argentina at the Mexico ATP Open.YURI CORTEZ (AFP)

With a bandage around his troublesome left knee, Rafael Nadal overcame Argentinean world 157 Diego Schwartzman 6-2, 6-2 in his opening tie on the Acapulco clay on Tuesday, amid speculation over his participation in the Indian Wells Masters hard-court tournament next week.

The Mallorcan told reporters after Tuesday’s Mexican Open match that it was his intention to be in California for the 1000 event — “a tournament I love and it is my priority to play there.” But he said he could not confirm his presence: “I don’t know if I am going to be there. It will depend on how I feel day-by-day this week. The media can’t know more than I do. I am being 100-percent honest and my intention is to go to Indian Wells.”

Following seven months out with a left knee injury, Nadal’s comeback has so far met with success in the two events in which he has competed so far, both on clay courts: the Viña del Mar tournament in Chile, where he reached the final, and the Brasil Open, which he won.

But the world number five warned he might delay his move to the harder surface if he doesn’t feel “sufficiently comfortable” in order to concentrate on the European clay-court season, with one eye on defending his French Open title in May.

“The knee is not yet 100-percent perfect,” he explained. “Some days I have played with some restriction, but not today.”

We were told he would be in pain until the end of February, and that is what is happening”

He underlined that while his injury felt comfortable, “playing well or badly does not always depend on the knee. When it was fine, I always had better and worse days. But in the last three days it is responding better than in Brazil and Chile, which is a reason to be happy, and above all shows we are on the right line.”

Sources from Nadal’s team say he will make the decision about Indian Wells, as well as the Miami Masters, in New York, where he is due to play an exhibition match in Madison Square Garden on Monday, three days before he is scheduled to debut in the California tournament.

“He is used to having a lot of mobility, which he currently lacks, and it looks like it will be like this until he is 100 percent — quite a while,” explained his uncle and coach Toni Nadal over the phone. “We are continuing down the route set out for us: we were told that he would be in pain until the end of February, and that is what is happening.”

Clay is by far Nadal’s preferred surface — he has won 37 of his 51 titles on it. It is also much kinder on the joints.

Hard courts are much more damaging for players, and the Spaniard hasn’t won a tournament on the faster surface since his triumph in Tokyo in the fall of 2010. His last hard-court match was in Miami last year, where he failed to compete in the semifinals, precisely because of the pain in his left knee that continues to plague him today.

In Mexico, Nadal knows his knee and racket could face their first real tests. This isn’t an ATP 250 like Viña del Mar or Brazil, but a 500 tournament, and potential meetings with the likes of world number four David Ferrer, who beat Croatian Antonio Veic, and 12th-ranked Nicolás Almagro, who beat Mexico’s César Ramírez, await if they continue to advance.

He also knows that the 500 points that a triumph in Acapulco would deliver would be very useful in helping him boost his world ranking — “a dream,” he said. “I go from day to day, which is what I did when I was in peak condition.”

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