RAFAEL Nadal has insisted that reclaiming the world No1 ranking is not high on his agenda as he prepares to return to grand slam action at the US Open next week.
The Spaniard watched Roger Federer usurp him as the world's leading player during a two-month absence with tendinitis in both knees which forced him to miss Wimbledon, and then saw Andy Murray leapfrog him into the No2 ranking when the Scot triumphed in Montreal earlier this month.
However, Nadal, who faces Frenchman Richard Gasquet in his opening game at Flushing Meadows, insisted that being competitive and getting back to winning ways is his immediate target.
"I was very happy to be number one for almost a year. But, no my goal is to be competitive, to try and win important tournaments," said the six-times grand slam champion, who lost to Juan Martin Del Potro in the quarter-final of the Rogers Cup on his comeback in Canada a fortnight ago before going down to Novak Djokovic in the semi-final of the Cincinnati Masters last weekend.
"That's my goal and if it's like this then I am going to have my chances to be number one another time, but my important goal is to try to perform well to win important tournaments, not to be number one.
"I am not number one right now, but I always say the same thing. My motivation and aspiration is the same, being number one or being number five. So that's the truth. And my goal is the same – it's to always be happy playing, it's to enjoy the game and improve always."
Federer's victories in the French Open (where a below-par Nadal suffered a surprise fourth-round defeat to Sweden's Robin Soderling) and at Wimbledon this year saw the Spaniard relinquish two of his titles.
Some observers claim the Swiss' success was devalued because he did not have to beat his great rival, but Nadal disagrees.
"It is always really tough to lose a tournament or miss a tournament for injury, you know," said Nadal of his absence at SW19. "But the truth is, I wasn't ready to play in Wimbledon. So I feel very bad, but that's the thing. I didn't feel ready. I will come back next year.
"The important thing is to win the tournament. It doesn't matter who you win against in the final," he continued. "For me a win against Roger is always very, very special, but I would love to win any grand slam against someone in the final. It doesn't matter who the rival is."
The US Open remains the only grand slam event that Nadal has yet to win, and he would become only the seventh man ever to claim all four major titles if he emerges victorious in New York a fortnight tomorrow.
However, his long lay-off has not helped his chances of claiming the elusive title. "I think I am going to have more options in the next few years," he admitted.
"The important thing is to feel confident with my knees and when I feel confident with my knees, I'm going to be able to practise harder and find my best performance as soon as possible.
"It's tough to say if I am going to be ready 100 per cent for the US Open. It's normal, isn't it, because after a long break and major injuries, it's difficult to be ready. But I will try."