On clay, a giant unsteady

Rafael Nadal’s dominance isn’t assured as he begins his season on his favourite surface this year.

By: Associated Press | Rio De Janeiro | Published: February 15, 2015 1:27:42 am
Nadal has won nine of the last ten French Opens but he is coming off illness and injuries and two surprising losses as be begins his season on clay. Nadal has won nine of the last ten French Opens but he is coming off illness and injuries and two surprising losses as be begins his season on clay.

Rafael Nadal says he’s free of “physical problems” as his clay-court season starts next week in the Rio de Janeiro Open. It’s anyone’s guess how the Spaniard will play, coming off illness and injuries last season and two surprising losses already this year.
He’s the world’s best on clay, winning nine of the last 10 French Opens. But he hasn’t played since losing in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and the Rio heat will be stifling. He also plans to march Sunday in an annual Carnival parade, a late night of dancing and dining.

It was 38 C (100 F) on Friday with the same temperatures predicted for next week. “I think this heat would affect anybody,” Nadal said. “It’s very difficult with these conditions. The conditions are extreme, with high humidity on top of that. If it doesn’t cool off, I’ll suffer and try to survive any way I can.”

In addition to losing to Tomas Berdych in Australia, ending a 17-match winning streak against the Czech, Nadal also lost his first match at the Qatar Open to Thomas Berrer. He’s hoping to find his form during the Latin American clay-court season, his third swing through South America. He arrived with injuries the last two times. This time he says he’s better.

“I’m feeling well physically,” he said.

Despite the reply, he received several other questions from reporters about his health, always hinting that his physical style could shorten his career. He’s 28 and has won 14 Grand Slam titles. He’s also slimmed down, appearing much lighter than he was when he won here a year ago.

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“The physical side has helped me during my entire career,” Nadal said. “The physical part has been what has helped me get where I am and have the career I have had. …If I’m not well physically, it’s impossible to aspire to big things. I need to have confidence in my body and my tennis to compete.”

When Nadal arrived last month in Australia, he said he wasn’t ready to win. The same question Friday received a similar reply, even from the so-called “King of Clay.” “I don’t know if I’m ready to win here or not,” he said. “I’m going to try to be ready for Tuesday and be competitive, and then we’ll see what’s going on. It’s my first tournament on clay after a long time, and always you need time to adapt.”

Stan to skip Davis Cup tie

Stan Wawrinka is skipping a Davis Cup tie for the first time in his career, saying he will not play in defending champion Switzerland’s first-round meeting with Belgium in March. Wawrinka and Roger Federer helped Switzerland win the tournament for the first time in November but said he “had to take this difficult decision due to my busy playing schedule in the upcoming weeks.”

He said the decision is for the first round only, and that he will “reassess at a later stage when I will return to the team.”

Simon advances

Gilles Simon secured his first win over top-seeded Andy Murray in nearly eight years to set up a semifinal with defending champion Tomas Berdych at the World Tennis Tournament on Friday.

In the other semifinal, second-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada will face 2013 Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland after both won their quarterfinals.  Since Simon’s previous win over Murray in 2007 on clay at the Rome Masters, the Frenchman had lost 12 matches against the former Wimbledon champion.

Simon saved four of the six break points he faced, and capitalized on Murray’s unforced errors to win 6-4, 6-2 on his third match point. Earlier, Berdych escaped unscathed from a heavy fall and romped to a 6-1, 6-4 victory over another Frenchman, Gael Monfils. The Czech hit a flurry of baseline winners and served extremely well, winning 88 percent of the points on his first serve.

The third-seeded Berdych needed just 23 minutes to seal the first set, and broke for 2-1 in the second soon after calling the trainer to have his left wrist checked following his tumble when chasing a drop shot.

Meanwhile, the big-serving Raonic was below-par, hitting only six aces in a gritty 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win against Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky, with both players dropping serve twice.

Wawrinka edged Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller 7-6 (3), 6-3, with both players serving nine aces.  Wawrinka leads Raonic 3-0 in career head-to-heads, while Simon leads Berdych 6-3 — having won four of their past five meetings.

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