Nadal Gambles to Regain Former Status
Rafa Nadal admits he is having to take risks in order to achieve the level required to win back the world number one ranking.
The French Open champion is gambling with a heavier headed racket here in the first tournament of the 2012 tour, even though he has had little more than a week to get used to the change.
Nadal is also taking a chance in coming to the Qatar Open while wrestling with doubts about his mental and physical state after an all-too-short break between seasons.
"I had to make the change even if I am not better in the beginning," he said of an equipment change he first considered making after losing the U.S. Open final to Novak Djokovic in September.
"We had to make the decision so that it will be better in the future," Nadal explained. "Probably that hurts my game a little bit to begin with. Is that a risk at the beginning of the season - yes."
Nadal hopes that the change will lend some extra weight to his serve, which at times has been the least potent of the world's top four.
His twin problems are that Djokovic last year took his game to a new level of intensity, and that he has been struggling with discomfort in his shoulder for several weeks.
Nadal also admitted that a combination of this injury and continuing twinges in a knee, plus the shortness of the break between seasons, made him consider missing this week and going straight to Melbourne for the Australian Open.
He decided to delay the racket change till now because of his commitments to the Tokyo and Shanghai tournaments, which were quickly followed by the ATP World Tour finals and the Davis Cup final at the start of December.
That left Nadal, after a short rest, with little more than a week to prepare for the 2012 season, increasing the risks in what he calls an "investment" in the weightier racket.
"But it was still the right moment, to change," said the 25-year-old Spaniard. "If not now, then when?"
Nadal is a conspicuously resilient character, but still acknowledges that this week will be "difficult" as he seeks a good preparation for the first Grand Slam of 2012.
Although he is a winner of 10 Grand Slam titles, Nadal has not won a tournament since the French at the start of June, and has lost his last six finals against Djokovic.
"I don't know if it's going to be enough to beat him now or to lose him 100 more times - I cannot predict that," Nadal concluded.
"What I can predict is I am going to work hard to try to be enough competitive to play with good chances against everybody, not only against him, because first thing, you have to be in the finals. That's a very difficult thing to do."
Nadal, the top seed, begins the season on Tuesday against Philipp Kohlschreiber, the world number 43 from Germany, and has a possible semi-final with Gael Monfils of France.
If he wins that he could have a final against his career-long rival, Roger Federer, the winner of a record 16 Grand Slam titles, who is seeking his fourth triumph in Qatar.