There aren’t that many tournaments Rafael Nadal has failed to win throughout his long career and the ATP Finals is one of them.
But as he broaches the subject of his drought at a tournament he has contested on seven previous occasions, Nadal is quick to highlight a particular fact.
“Yes it’s always on my mind (that I haven’t won here before), it’s true, but at the same time it’s always on my mind that in the 13 years that I’ve qualified I’ve never played on a different surface than this one,” the world No.1 smiles as he addressed reporters at the O2 Arena in London on Friday.
Since 2005, the ATP Finals have been staged on indoor hard courts – a surface Nadal favours the least.
The Spaniard, who has enjoyed success on all surfaces but is undoubtedly the most comfortable on clay, has long discussed the fact that the season finale should be hosted in different cities on other surfaces.
But London has been such a smash hit financially that it has held onto the event since 2009, with the contract now extended until 2020.
It looks like Nadal will never play this event on his beloved clay.
Starting Sunday, the 31-year-old Nadal headlines a field that includes Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Jack Sock.
The top seed has been racing against time to recover from a right knee injury that forced him to withdraw from his Paris Masters quarter-final last week and while he gave no guarantees on Friday, he said he had every intention to take to the court this Monday for his opening clash against Belgium’s Goffin.
“Here I am trying my best, that’s all I can say now. I hope, and if I don’t believe that I can be ready for Monday, I would not be here. We are working every day, practicing a lot and just trying to be ready for the action,” said the 16-time Grand Slam champion.
“I’m going to play, today the thing that I can say is that I’m going to play, that’s my feeling today. But what can happen in a couple of days I cannot predict what’s going to happen. But my feeling now is that I’m here to play and I’m going to try my best to give me chances to play this event.”
If all goes well and Nadal does indeed play in London, fans will given a mouth-watering prospect of a potential showdown with second-seeded Federer, who is targeting a seventh ATP Finals trophy.
While Nadal has long dominated their head-to-head; this year, Federer got the better of him in all four of their meetings.
Would victory over Federer to close out the season give Nadal a confidence boost?
“No, I don’t need to beat Roger to get confidence. I won enough to be enough confident,” says Nadal, a winner of six titles in 2017, including two Grand Slams.
“If I play against him here it would be great, to finish the year playing against him again, and to give me another chance, so that’s it.”
Nadal then notes that all of those four defeats he suffered to Federer this year came on hard courts.
“We cannot forget that we played all the times on surfaces that he likes more than me. Just accept that and just to find different ways to reach the match and if that happens, and I’m healthy enough, I know I’ll have my chances,” added the Mallorcan.
Federer, who headlines Group Boris Becker, begins his campaign on Sunday against tournament debutant Sock, with Marin Cilic facing Alexander Zverev.
Group Pete Sampras kicks off on Monday with Thiem taking on Dimitrov before Nadal opens against Goffin.