Nadal to serve notice at Madrid Open

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer appear at the same claycourt event for the first time this season with the Madrid Masters a key test just three weeks out from the French Open.

Nadal to serve notice at Madrid Open
Victory for Spain's Rafa Nadal at the Madrid Open would be perfect preparation for next month's French Open at Roland Garros. Photo: Josep Lago/AFP

The tournament returns to  traditional red clay after a controversial experiment with blue clay in 2012.

The surface drew strong criticism from Nadal and Djokovic who threatened not to return to play in the Spanish capital if it wasn't changed.

However, ATP president Brad Drewett outlawed the use of blue clay and so seven-time French Open winner Nadal and world number one Djokovic will return for another potentially fascinating clash.

Djokovic ended Nadal's eight-year reign as champion in Monte Carlo in the last Masters event a fortnight ago with such a devastating display that the Serb is now hotly tipped to become just the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam and claim his first French Open title at Roland Garros.

Nadal bounced back to claim an eighth title at the Barcelona Open last week without dropping a set, but with Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray all set to be in the draw this week, Nadal faces a much sterner test to lift his third title in Madrid.

Federer seemed to be the least concerned amongst the furore over the surface last year as in typically serene style he won the tournament for a record third time and he told the tournament's official magazine that he loves coming to Madrid, despite the home fans' obvious affection for his long-time rival Nadal.

"I enjoy playing in Madrid. They put up a great event, there is always a fantastic atmosphere when I play. Spanish people love tennis, Rafa is such a hero in Spain but I feel like they appreciate me and the other top players a lot as well and that is great," said the world number two.

Federer will return to action for the first time since losing to Nadal on the hard courts of Indian Wells back at the beginning of March as he took the availability of Monte Carlo being the only optional Masters event for the top players to continue training in Switzerland.

Murray will also look to get his clay court season up and running after a disappointing early exit to Stanislas Wawrinka in Monte Carlo.

The world number three, who won the tournament back in 2008 when it was played on a hard court, missed last year's event due to a back injury and has yet to reach a claycourt final.

In the women's event, reigning champion Serena Williams is once again the favourite.

However, the American could be usurped as world number one should Maria Sharapova win the tournament.

The Russian comes into Madrid in good form having won in Stuttgart last week, but since an early season wobble at the Australian Open where she was dumped out by teenage compatriot Sloane Stephens, Williams has looked imperious and hasn't been beaten since February thanks to wins at the Miami Masters and in Charleston last month.

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Ten years on, Nadal looks back on ’emotional’ Wimbledon win over Federer

Ten years after out-duelling Roger Federer to win the greatest Wimbledon final, Rafael Nadal returns to the All England Club still basking in the warm glow of that epic encounter.

Ten years on, Nadal looks back on 'emotional' Wimbledon win over Federer
Spain's Rafael Nadal holds his trophy after defeating Switzerland's Roger Federer at the 2008 Wimbledon championships. PHOTO: LEWIS WHYLD / POOL / AFP
After losing to Federer in successive Wimbledon finals, Nadal finally got the better of the Swiss star in a thrilling 2008 clash many regard as the finest ever to grace the hallowed Centre Court.
Nadal's 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5/7), 6-7 (8/10), 9-7 victory was a defining moment for the Spaniard as it gave him a first Grand Slam crown away from his favoured clay at the French Open. The match marked the high point of a captivating rivalry between Nadal and Federer that played a huge role in tennis's resurgence as a multi-million-pound business.
For Nadal, the significance was far more personal. Aware of how important it was to legitimise himself by beating Federer at Wimbledon, Nadal went on to win on hard courts at the Australian and US Opens and emerged as one of the sport's all-time greats.
Nadal, now with 17 major titles on his CV, has arrived for next week's Wimbledon with the anniversary of his finest moment sparking happy memories.
“Of course in that moment, that final has been a very important step forward for me in my career,” he told a press conference at Wimbledon on Saturday. “I always have been very clear that it probably is one of the most emotional matches that I played in my career.”
“Yeah, everybody knows that for me to win here was one of my dreams,” Nadal continued. “After losing two finals, that final created a big impact in my tennis career. The personal satisfaction that tournament give to me is difficult to compare with other things. But, yes, it has been great.”
Nadal went onto win Wimbledon again in 2010 before a host of injury problems forced him to take a step back. He is back on top of the ATP rankings after winning an 11th French Open in June.
'I'm still here'
Asked what has changed since that golden evening against Federer, the 32-year-old said: “I'm older, more kilometres under my legs. In general terms, important things in life didn't change much. That's the real thing. 
“In terms of tennis, of course I had to adapt a little bit my game during that period of time. Today I see that final like a long time ago. But the good thing is I still here. I am happy for that.”
Nadal has won three of the last five Grand Slams, taking the French Open two years in a row and lifting the US Open trophy in 2017. Despite his strong form at Wimbledon in the first half of his career, Nadal hasn't been past the last 16 since 2011 after a series of shock defeats against players outside the top 100.
Nadal admits it is difficult for his aching knees to transition from clay to grass, but insists he can make a strong challenge for Federer's title over the next fortnight.
“Expectations are always high. I am not here to play the tournament; I am here to try to have a good result,” said Nadal, who opens against Israel's Dudi Sela in the first round.
“But it's true this is one of these events that you arrive here and you really don't have the previous feeling of how you feel, how you are playing. 
“It's nothing new; even when I won here, when I played five finals in a row. It's an event that you need to find your confidence during the tournament and during the practice the week before.
“For example, when I arrive to Roland Garros, I know more or less if I am playing well. I know where my chances are. In the US Open, little bit less, but still better than here.”
By AFP's Steven Griffiths