PARIS: Rafael Nadal says he has no intention of letting go the top ranking he fought so hard to wrest from Roger Federer, even though he insists his ascension to the summit of the men’s game hasn’t changed him.
But in a wide-ranging interview with Tuesday’s French sports daily L’Equipe, the muscular Spaniard insisted new goals had to be set and met - starting with expanding his Grand Slam portfolio beyond Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
“Nowadays, when I go on court, I don’t say I am number one, number two - or number 50. I am there to win,” Nadal insisted.
The long slog to the top finally saw the Mallorcan take over from the seemingly infallible Federer in August, a month after Nadal had won an epic Wimbledon final to become the first man since Bjorn Borg to lift back-to-back titles in Paris and south London.
For 160 weeks Nadal had laboured in second spot seemingly destined always to play second fiddle to his Swiss rival; the Spaniard the King of Clay, undoubtedly, but perhaps only the Dauphin in all-round, all-surface terms.
After a muddy start to 2008 - an Australian Open semifinal loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was one of a number of missteps - Nadal was into his stride once he got on the title board at Monte Carlo.
From then on there was no looking back as he humiliated Federer at Roland Garros, then thrillingly clinched Wimbledon after two consecutive final losses to the same player.
“Wimbledon was the turning point - from then on I realised it (dethroning Federer after a record 237 weeks) was possible,” explained the 22-year-old, who famously signs autographs with his right hand but plays with his left.
But he says Federer is still his benchmark. “It’s very difficult to stay at the summit - Federer was exceptional these last four or five seasons. All that time he was winning three Grand Slams a year - incredible.
“He’s not had the ‘bad’ season some people say he has... I think if Federer had won his customary three Grand Slams it would have been impossible to dislodge him.”
With another Davis Cup final to come next month away to Argentina as well as the Masters Cup in Shanghai, Nadal is now the man to beat and, as the mark of a true champion, is conscious of the need to set the bar still higher.
Asked which of the Australian and US Opens it might be easier to target, he insisted: “Both. I tell myself I’ve got to the semis in both and so I’m not far off. Maybe the game conditions in Australia are more advantageous for me,” he pondered.
“My goals haven’t changed - I only want to progress. That’s what you have to do if you are number one and want to stay there. I want to stay there and I will fight for that,” said Nadal, who meanwhile indicated that he saw in Andy Murray a massive threat to his ambitions.
The Scot dumped the Spaniard out of the US Open and Nadal said: “Murray has proved these past few months he’s got what it takes to win the big tournaments, no matter who he’s up against.”