Surface tensions for Nadal

World number one will fight to keep Novak Djokovic at bay but is more worried about playing surface at ATP Tour Finals.

Big return: Nadal has had a brilliant season after seven months out with a knee injury [EPA]

Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic said on Monday that being world number one was not their priority.

If you believe them or not that’s up to you, but the battle for the top ranking will capture headlines in the coming days.

While it would be fitting for the end of season ATP World Tours to decide top spot, the most remarkable thing about the battle is that it is still on.  

After returning from a seven-month knee injury, Rafael Nadal exploded back onto the tennis scene. He licked up ATP Tour points like a greedy child, wiping the floor with everyone who crossed his path.

The O2 stadium is one of the best I've ever played in but that doesn't mean that the ATP can't be a bit fairer to all the players...We play on all surfaces through the year.

Rafael Nadal, world number one

After a second grand slam win at the U.S. Open, it looked like nobody would be able to keep up with him. Nadal was back to his intimidating and ferocious best.

But if anyone was going to stop Nadal’s point-licking, it was a certain Serb – Novak Djokovic.

Entering the season finale in London, Djokovic has been on a Nadal-type run himself. With consecutive successes in China, Shanghai and Paris, the former world number one is munching into the point deficit and still has a chance of reclaiming the top ranking.

The chances are slim, but the manner in which Djokovic has fought into a position where he can, is worthy of much praise.  

“If I want to have a chance to finish number one I have to win all my matches here and at the Davis Cup,” he said at a press conference ahead of his opening match with Roger Federer.

“And I think he (Nadal) has to not win more than one. It doesn’t make sense to get into the calculations really.”

“What is important is that I have won three tournaments in a row, 17 matches in a row, and this gives me a lot of confidence going into this week… If I finish number one of course it will be an incredible achievement but it is not top of my list of priorities.”

Although the top ranking is clearly still important to Djokovic, Nadal refused to indulge the media and our dirty obsession with the number one spot.

True history

After all, Nadal’s year has put a lot of things into perspective. At the end of 2012 Nadal didn’t even know if he would ever play the game again.

“It’s definitely the most difficult thing I’ve had to face in my career. Number one – you like the history of the number one but I like more other things,” Nadal said ahead of his match against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer on Tuesday.  

“For me the history of this year is not being number one, the history is that after seven months without competing and practising I was able to win from the beginning and compete and win tournaments. That’s the real history of this year.”

World in his hands: Djokovic believes London has had enough tennis and the finals should expand the sport elsewhere [AP]

Against the world’s top players, Djokovic cannot afford to let his current form dip. However, things do look good for the Serb.

He arrives in London boosted by Sunday’s Paris win over Ferre and as the tournament’s defending champion. When asked if Djokovic was the favourite, Nadal answered with a curt and straightforward “yes”.

Meanwhile, Nadal has never won the end-of-year competition.  

“A small reason was fatigue – but a bigger reason was that I’ve never been a fantastic indoor player. I’ve been unlucky – since 2005, the last nine years, the end of season masters was on an indoor surface and that’s not the best for me,” Nadal said.

While Nadal and Djokovic are fond of the O2 venue in Greenwich, southeast London, they both had their own gripes about the event.

Nadal strongly believes the tournament should alternate its surface to reflect the various surfaces competed on throughout the year.

“The O2 stadium is one of the best I’ve ever played in but that doesn’t mean that the ATP can’t be a bit fairer to all the players,” he said.

“We play on all surfaces through the year – my personal opinion is this is not going to happen for my generation, but the next generation needs something a bit more fair for the players and the fans.

“If I want to win this tournament, I have to win on this surface.”

Tour the world

Not keen to comment on the surface issue, Djokovic instead had strong words for the ATP on where the World Tours should be played.

The end-of-season competition has been held in London’s O2 since 2009 and will remain there until 2015.  

“I was saying before that this tournament should definitely be organised in different places more often. It should not be held in one city for more than three years,” he said.

“This is a tournament that is not fixed for one city, or one country. I and various other players share this view because we need to be promoting tennis, to bring this tournament to places where tennis isn’t as popular.

“If we are looking to expand our sport then we should look into allowing other cities in the world to compete for this tournament.”

Both Nadal and Djokovic’s critiques should be given plenty of consideration by the ATP. They appear to be speaking a lot of sense.

It’s only when conversation returns to the top ranking that their comments should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Source: Al Jazeera