Nadal downplays pressure of his first U.S. Open final

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal, poised to add his name to an illustrious list after reaching his first U.S. Open final, tried to take some of the pressure off by downplaying the importance of Sunday’s championship match.

Rafael Nadal of Spain stretches for a return to Mikhail Youzhny of Russia during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, September 11, 2010. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

The 24-year-old Nadal earned his first crack at becoming the seventh player to complete a career grand slam when he beat 12th-seeded Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-2 6-3 6-4 on Saturday in their semi-finals match.

“For me, the most important tournament of the year 2010 was Roland Garros,” the Spaniard, missing only the U.S. Open title from his grand slam collection, told reporters. “That was the most important tournament for me.

“After that I was big confidence for me to win in Roland Garros another time, because was very hard to lose in 2009. So after that, I think I relaxed.”

Nadal, bothered by a knee injury, lost in the fourth round of last year’s French Open and that opened the door for Roger Federer to march on and complete his own career grand slam by winning the title on the red clay of Roland Garros.

This year the Spaniard reclaimed his French crown for his fifth triumph in that slam, and went on to win Wimbledon and now could become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the last three grand slams of the season in the same year.

Victory in Flushing Meadows on Sunday would give Nadal a ninth grand slam title, including two Wimbledons and an Australian Open crown.

Nadal said regardless of what he might accomplish at the U.S. Open, where he lost in the semi-finals the past two years, he did not feel his career could be compared to Federer, who holds the record for grand slam victories.

“Roger won 16 grand slams already,” noted Nadal, who said the Swiss master’s feat of reaching the semi-finals or better in 23 successive grand slam events was even more remarkable.

“That’s something amazing. It’s impossible to repeat, in my opinion,” the Spaniard said, adding he did not want to be drawn into a discussion of best player ever.

“If I win that final (U.S. Open) I’m going to say the same thing. I am not on the way to being the best in history ... I really don’t believe I can arrive to Roger’s level.”

Editing by Frank Pingue