RAFAEL Nadal revealed his inner pride at returning to the No 1 ranking after ensuring he will finish one of the most remarkable seasons in tennis on top of the world.
The Spaniard’s victory over Stanislas Wawrinka at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals yesterday means he can no longer be caught by Novak Djokovic, whom he overtook last month.
It is an incredible achievement given Nadal did not play a tournament until February after seven months out with knee problems and lost in the first round at Wimbledon.
Many questioned whether he would be able to hit the same heights but he silenced the doubters, who included himself, by winning ten of his first 13 tournaments.
Nadal had played down the importance of the No 1 position prior to his 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6) victory over Wawrinka, which also booked his spot in the semi-finals at London’s O2 Arena.
But afterwards he was happy to admit what it meant to him and how much he felt he deserved it. Nadal said: “During all my season I said it’s not my goal, but the real thing is after all the success I had during the season, I think that after all what happened last year, I felt I deserved to be there at the end of the season. And today I did it.
“It was one of the best things that I did in my career, to come back to the number one after three seasons. That’s very difficult in our sport, and after a very important injury. That’s an emotional thing for me.
“At the same time to be able to qualify for the semi-finals is an extra thing. And the good thing is after two matches now I can really be focused only on the tournament because the year-end [ranking] is over.” Nadal is unlikely to find his position under threat any time soon given Djokovic won the World Tour Finals last year and the Australian Open while his rival has no ranking points to defend until February.
Nadal said the position became important to him after he beat Djokovic to win his 13th grand slam title at the US Open.
He added: “I think it’s a great effort because I have unbelievable competitors in front. That makes the year-end number one very, very special.
“You can feel how tough everything is that winning all the things that I won this year, until the last tournament, I was not able to secure it. So that makes everybody realise how difficult it is to be there.”
Wawrinka made Nadal fight all the way for his landmark victory. The 28-year-old Swiss qualified for this tournament for the first time after the best season of his career and he recovered from an early break in the opening set to force a tie-break.
At 5-5, he had Nadal on the ropes but the top seed somehow managed to scramble a lob over Wawrinka and draw the error.
Nadal then took the set point after Wawrinka stumbled coming to the net, his frustration all too evident as he destroyed his racquet.
The pattern of the second set was the same, with Wawrinka hitting back after Nadal had taken a 4-1 lead.
But once more the big points went the way of Nadal, with Wawrinka placing a forehand wide at 5-4 when the set was in his sights.
Nadal did not put a foot wrong when saving a set point and successive errors from Wawrinka gave victory to the Spaniard even though he won three fewer points overall.
In last night’s other match in Group A, Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic reignited his hopes with a 6-4 6-4 win over Spain’s David Ferrer.