Plagued by poor play in Grand Slams and smaller tournaments, No. 10 Rafael Nadal tries to get his season back on track beginning this week with the Bet-at-Home Open in Hamburg, Germany. The Spaniard sports a 29-10 record with one singles title this year after his disappointing second-round exit at Wimbledon last month.
But starting with first-round opponent and compatriot No. 41 Fernando Verdasco on Monday, Nadal returns to clay with the chance to find the rhythm and consistency that’s largely eluded him all year as a warm up to U.S. Open later next month.
Trying to rediscover past glory and ascend in the rankings after a precipitous decline, Nadal finds his way back to Hamburg for the first time in more than seven years. Back in May 2008 when the event was part of the ATP Master Series, Nadal was firing on all cylinders and managed to hold off the challenges of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer for the title.
Nadal would lose only two sets throughout the five matches, and it served as a springboard to his fourth consecutive French Open title. And altogether Nadal’s 11-2 all-time in Hamburg.
“I am very happy to be back in Hamburg, I haven’t been here since 2008 so it’s great to be back in such a nice city. I have great memories about this tournament,” Nadal told reporters Sunday. “I think probably defeating Carlos Moya in 2003 was a very important match for me at the time but also I remember very well the match against Novak Djokovic in 2008 which was very emotional.”
Emotions have to be high both on Nadal’s laurels and his career. He couldn’t advance beyond the quarterfinals at the Australian, French, and Wimbledon, with the second-round exit at All England over four sets to American Dustin Brown dropping Nadal to his lowest ranking in nearly a decade.
A matchup with Verdasco, on clay no less, seems like the perfect remedy for Nadal. He owns a 14-2 all-time record against Verdasco, though the two losses have come in their most recent meetings. Verdasco, 31, dropped Nadal in three sets at the Miami Masters in March, as well as in Madrid in 2012.
But Miami was when Nadal’s injuries flared up, and supporters feared the worst in the lead-up tournaments to the French. Now, the 29-year-old insists he’s healthy and ready to get back on track.
“I need to accept that it is a new situation and face it with a good attitude and keep working hard to return to a good level,” Nadal said. “I feel good. I don’t have any injuries and that is the important thing.”