PHOTOS/VIDEO: Rafael Nadal Media Day at the China Open 2016
Rafael Nadal returns to the China Open in Beijing this week with two goals in mind. The Spaniard, the second seed in the Chinese capital, will try to win his third title of the season, matching his trophy haul of last season and 2011. He also wants to boost his standing in the Emirates ATP Race To London.
Nadal is currently in eighth place, prime position because the top eight players qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, to be held 13-20 Nov. at The O2 in London. But with 3,200 points, the left-hander doesn't have his bid locked up just yet. Tomas Berdych, who defended his Shenzhen Open title on Sunday, is in ninth place, 330 points behind Nadal, and Marin Cilic, the fourth seed in Tokyo this week, is in 10th place and trails Nadal by 800 points.
“It's always an important thing,” Nadal said of the season finale on Sunday during his pre-tournament press conference in Beijing. “Four tournaments [left] for trying to qualify. I'm going to try.”
The year-end championships remain one of the few tournaments the 69-time titlist has not captured. Nadal made the final in London in 2010 (l. to Federer) and 2013 (l. to Djokovic).
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In Beijing, the Spaniard also will look to return to his level of earlier in the season. The 30 year old won the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona but had to withdraw from his third-round match at Roland Garros because of a left-wrist injury. The left-hander didn't return to ATP World Tour action until the Western & Southern Open in August, when he fell in the third round to #NextGen star Borna Coric. At the US Open, Nadal lost to Lucas Pouille in five sets in the fourth round.
“Having injuries in the middle of the season is tougher. But being realistic, I should be happy the way I came back after the injury... I played a good US Open. I lost a match against a very good player, but a match that I had a big chance to win,” Nadal said. “I should be happy. It's obvious that I need to continue to work with the things that I need to keep improving, to try to be back at the level I was before the injury this year. I was playing great.”
Nadal has a tough path in Beijing. He opens with Italian Paolo Lorenzi, who became the oldest first-time winner on the ATP World Tour in July when the 34 year old won the Kitzbuhel crown. The two have played two times in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, and Nadal won both occasions (Buenos Aires, 2016; Rome, 2011). In the quarter-finals, Nadal could again face Pouille.
“I need to play well from the first day because if not, I'm not going to win against Lorenzi,” Nadal said.
The Spaniard is finding time to be a tourist in China as well. On Saturday, he visited the Great Wall of China for the first time. “It was good... I've been [to Beijing] a lot of times already. I had never the chance to visit it,” Nadal said. “I really enjoyed it.”
Beijing (AFP): Rafael Nadal slammed changes being mulled by tennis governing bodies to shorten matches and make them more TV-friendly, saying that the move goes against the sport's "values".
"The kind of matches that stay on (in) the memory and on the history of our sport are a little bit long matches and dramatic matches that become emotional," Nadal told reporters in Beijing.
Women's tennis boss Steve Simon said last week the WTA was considering introducing super tie-breakers and no-ad scoring for singles matches.
The potential changes mirror the still-controversial rule shift made to non-Grand Slam doubles - on the men's and women's circuits - a decade ago.
The new format would create shorter matches that are more predictable in length, making them easier for broadcasters to accommodate.
"If you want to change the values of the sport, maybe yes," the 30-year-old Spaniard said.
"Tennis has values that we need to follow, in my opinion."
Simon said the shift was necessary to accommodate the shortening attention span of audiences -- another point the former world number one took umbrage with.
"All the sports needs to improve and adapt to the new things. But I am not sure if that's the way -- to make the matches quicker," Nadal said.
"You need to put everything together to create a great show, to create a show (so) that the people emotionally feel involved in the match."
"But I am just a player," added the 14-time Grand Slam champion.
The Spaniard has been part of some of tennis's most emotionally charged matches in recent history.
His storied rivalry with Roger Federer played out in a nearly five-hour championship match at Wimbledon in 2008, which finally saw Nadal win his first crown at the All England Club.
Novak Djokovic fell to Nadal at the US Open final in 2013 in a four-set epic often billed as a tennis masterclass.
This week's China Open could be the stage for a repeat of the five-set thriller between Nadal and Lucas Pouille, currently ranked at 16, at Flushing Meadows last month.
The pair are on course to meet in the quarter finals, potentially allowing Nadal to exact revenge over the Frenchman, who won the deciding tie-break, ousting the two-time US Open champion in the round of 16.
Nadal meets 35th-ranked Italian Paolo Lorenzi in the first round, while Pouille faces wildcard Lu Yen-Hsun of Taiwan.