LONDON (Reuters) - Barring an unlikely set of circumstances over the next fortnight, Rafael Nadal will end a year as the world’s top-ranked player for the third time but it will cut no ice with the Spaniard.
“Yes, I would rather be number one than not,” the 27-year-old told reporters at the ATP World Tour Finals in London on Monday. “(But) it’s not the goal anymore.”
This time last year Nadal was holed up in Mallorca recovering from a debilitating left knee injury that sidelined him for seven months and prompted many to doubt his longevity at the top of the sport.
Since returning in February, however, Nadal has soared to new heights, reaching the final of 13 of the 16 tournaments he entered, winning 10 of them including the French Open and the U.S. Open to take his grand slam haul to 13, just four behind the total of Roger Federer.
His dominance took him back above Novak Djokovic at the top of the world rankings on October 7 and, for the record, he will become the first player to twice regain the year-end No.1 spot after losing it should he win two matches here this week.
Even if Nadal flops on what he says is his least favored surface, Djokovic would still have to regain his title here and win his singles rubbers at next week’s Davis Cup final against Czech Republic to stand any chance of overtaking the Spaniard.
Whatever happens, Nadal will not be losing any sleep over it.
“It was (a goal) to end the year as number one in 2008 because you want to have it so you can say you had a great career. It would be sad not to be,” Nadal, wearing a white “Vamos Rafa” T-shirt, said at the giant Thames-side O2 Arena.
“Now the goal is to be competitive. It makes me more happy to go to a tournament and win it. Being number one doesn’t make me feel more special when I‘m playing a big tournament.”
Returning from his seven-month lay-off has been one of Nadal’s biggest challenges and he said there had been plenty of doubts along the way.
“It’s the most difficult thing I did in my career to get back,” Nadal, who begins his Group A campaign against fellow Spaniard David Ferrer on Tuesday, said.
”I’ve already ended the year twice as number one and if it happens again, great, but it won’t affect how I look back on my career.
”I know you like the history of the number one ranking but for me the history of the year is my history after seven months not having the chance to compete and in a very short period of time being competitive again.
“Sure I doubted it, even today I have doubts,” he added. “The doubts are part of life. The person who doesn’t have doubts is either stupid or arrogant and I don’t consider myself like this.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Sonia Oxley