Rafael Nadal must outperform Novak Djokovic at this week’s Paris Masters to hang on to his No.1 ranking.
The Spaniard is making a welcome return to tennis after retiring from his US Open semifinal against Juan Martin del Potro with knee tendinitis in early September.
Djokovic was the eventual champion at Flushing Meadows and has since also captured the Shanghai Masters title, vaulting to world No.2 and sitting just 215 points behind Nadal.
Nadal is defending 180 points from his quarterfinal run in Bercy 12 months ago, but Djokovic can only overtake him if he advances further than Nadal in the tournament.
That is a distinct possibility, given Djokovic is the form player in the game – the Serb has won 27 of his past 28 matches, and 18 in a row. He’s a four-time winner in Paris while Nadal, who historically struggles at this stage of the season, is yet to lift the trophy in six visits.
Yet Nadal told the media in Paris that he was feeling better after rehabbing the knee injury that proved his undoing in New York.
“I am practising a little bit more every day. I am not thinking about big improvements or big things. I am just thinking about small improvements, and that’s the goal,” he said.
“I slow down a little bit the intensity of course. I stopped for a while after the US Open so then I started to practise slowly, step-by-step.
“It’s nothing new for me. It’s something that happened in my career a couple of times. So more or less we know the process, and we know the thing that works good to us, things that don’t work good.”
The 32-year-old is the top seed in Paris and receives a bye into the second round.
There he will face the winner of the match between Fernando Verdasco and Jeremy Chardy.
Like Nadal, Djokovic receives an opening-round bye and will take on either Marco Cecchinato or Joao Sousa in round two.
— Heather Crowley (@hcrowley88) October 27, 2018
Roger Federer is also in the mix; seeded third, he returns to the Paris Masters for the first time since 2015. The Swiss Indoors champion has landed in Djokovic’s half and takes on either Milos Raonic or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round.
Nadal was asked what he made of Djokovic’s comeback and rankings resurrection following an elbow injury that required surgery earlier this year.
“No, I am not surprised at all (he has returned to his best). He’s so good,” Nadal smiled.
“He’s having a great second part of the season, so he deserves to be where he is … everybody was sure that he will be back at his best and (I’m) happy to see someone like him back playing at that high level.”
Nadal said that injuries had prevented him playing enough tournaments – he has only contested nine events this season – to be focused on retaining the No.1 ranking.
Instead, he said he was concentrating on remaining healthy as the season comes to a close, and enjoying the fact he was back on court competing.
“Too many tournaments lost,” he lamented.
“Things that can happen or not – let’s see. I’m gonna fight as strong as I can to win as many matches as possible.
“Of course I would love to be No.1, but I am just here to try my best every day.”
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