Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, two of the greatest tennis players of all-time are excited to be back in Abu Dhabi to lead an all-star player line-up at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
World No. 5 Robin Soderling will take on Federer while world No. 6 Tomas Berdych set up a revenge meeting with Nadal in the semifinals on Friday after the two came through their quarter-finals at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Complex on Thursday.
Soderling, last year’s runner-up defeated Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-1 on the night while Czech Berdych beat Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 6-3 3-6 7-5, earlier in the day.
Speaking ahead of the opening match, defending champion Nadal said: “It’s a pleasure for me to be here in Abu Dhabi. It’s the perfect place to start the new season. All the players here are very good players and have to play really well to have the chance to meet them in the final match.”
Nadal predicts a tough season next year but aims to win all four Grand Slams and is peak physical condition at the moment.
“2011 season is going to be a difficult one with lot of good players there and for me it’s day by day. Try to play my best and try to play matches hard and fight every ball. I keep enjoying the game and keep fighting every day and enjoy every moment,” said Nadal who won at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open this year.
Such is his focus that he did not take break in December during the off season.
“I have no rest this year there is no time for that. I finished it London after that I rest just three four days. But I had to do promotions for the sponsors. After that I have don’t have time for me this December. Still I spent some time with the family during Christmas. And that’s the most important time I had,” said the Spaniard who had a 71-10 singles record last season.
“I know I have to answer this question since every day before Australia. For me it’s important one for sure. That’s what I’m going to try. Play all Grand Slam and to win a tournament in Australia is great. But I will take one game at a time. I will arrive there to play my best tennis against best players of the world. To win four in a row is the special motivation to play in all the Grand Slam,” said Nadal airing his thoughts on the Australian Open.
Asked how important it was to get a good start in the global season-opener in Abu Dhabi, he said: “It’s not my goal to win the title. My goal is to keep playing tennis and enjoy this tour. It’s not the most important thing for me. But try to play well and find my best performance and want to win the first match of the year for me and always give my best.”
Both Nadal and Federer were keen to point out the quality field for this year’s championship, each expecting a real battle as they prepare for the Australian Open.
Looking for his first tournament victory in Abu Dhabi, Federer said: “It is never nice to lose and that is why I will try everything to win. Winning always gives you a great confidence and I am playing great at the moment and hope that I can keep this up tomorrow and on the following day. I hope I can get two wins this year on the way to Australia despite the difficult and not so simple field.”
The 16-time Grand Slam champion had a great end to the season which he began by winning the Australian Open and signed off with a record tying fifth year-end title in London.
“The off-season has been short. I went on vacation after London was over because I really played a lot towards the end of the season. I think I played five out of seven weeks at the end, so I was really tired and just needed some rest and some good time with my family,” said Federer when asked how he spent the off season.
“After that I started practising again and went to play my two exhibitions with Rafa (Rafael Nadal) in Zurich and Madrid. It was a great success and a lot of fun to do. In the Christmas season, it was nice to do such a great thing, to raise money for kids who need it much more than we do. From thereon I came back to Dubai and spend Christmas here with my family,” said Federer who has a home in Dubai.
Looking back at 2010 in which he regained the world number one ranking briefly, the Swiss master feels he has to produce something extra special to upstage his great rival Nadal.
“In general, I thought it was another good year. Maybe, in other years I could have been world number one if Rafa wouldn’t have won three Grand Slams. Winning one Grand Slam and the World Tour final usually puts you in a really good position to get to world number one, but Rafa has done similar years and he also finished number two in the world. So at the moment, you really need something extra special to be at the top, which I think is great for the game and he’s had an exceptional season,” said Federer who is not willing to slow down.
“I’m pretty happy the way I played. I know I could have done even better because sort of after Australia until the French Open, or even Wimbledon I didn’t really play a whole lot of matches. So for this reason I couldn’t pick up so many points and maybe couldn’t play my best because I was lacking matches,” he said.
“I had some tough losses this season but at the same time I was able to turn around some big matches that were really key and important to get back on track. I thought I had a great end to the season. Since Wimbledon I had only been able to reach semifinals or finals. It shows I am playing really well on the hardcourts and I hope I can take it over to the next season,” said Federer who won five Tour titles this year.
He is as excited at the start of a new season as he is during the height of competition. “I have never really looked at a season as a full-stop, full-start again. For me, it’s somewhat continuous. It’s true that the points starts from zero, the prize-money starts from zero and off you go again into a new season. I always enjoy the end of the season, even though for some they don’t quite understand that we still play tennis after the US Open. For me, the yearend is really fascinating and interesting playing in some wonderful places. So yeah, I do get excited for playing here in the Middle East and then going on and playing in Australia where they are so eager and excited to see tennis come back around over there for two or three weeks. So it’s always a good time of the year right now,” he said.
John Lickrish, Managing Director of FLASH, tournament organisers said: “Tennis fever has gripped Abu Dhabi as we welcome the worlds very best for this year’s championship to celebrate the start of the global tennis season. Fans are going to enjoy some truly world-class action on centre-court.”
As part of the championship’s focus on taking tennis into the community, all players are involved in coaching clinics during the tournament to help inspire and guide a new generation of players in the UAE.
Following a coaching clinic with local children Nadal added: “I love getting on court with the kids. They have such passion and it’s always a pleasure to do these kinds of events, hopefully it is a nice experience for them. I think tennis is improving in the Middle East. They are having tournaments here in Abu Dhabi and other countries in the region to help promote the game and make the kids play more tennis.”
Federer found it strange that players were not breaking into the top 100 from the Middle East. “It would be great to see a lot of talent coming out of the UAE. I also enjoy doing kids clinic. Two hours is a long time. It attracts a lots of kids and makes them play tennis and then it trickles down to their friends and families and then into the community . I think it’s a great thing,” said the former world no. 1 after his clinic with the kids.