Nadal returns in unfamiliar role of underdog
London: Rafa Nadal returns to action at the ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday hoping to issue a timely reminder of his powers.
The Spaniard, out of action for a month, has had a lean year by his high standards and has not captured a title since winning the French Open for a sixth time in June.
His number one ranking has been snatched away by man-of-the-year Novak Djokovic while all serious money for the London title is heading the way of in-form Swiss Roger Federer and home favourite Andy Murray.
The 25-year-old, whose last competitive match was a shock defeat by Germany`s Florian Mayer in Shanghai in October, was not fretting over his lower profile as he prepared for his Group B opener against American Mardy Fish.
"I don`t feel like (the forgotten man)," Nadal told reporters when it was suggested to the world number two that he had had slid into the shadow of the other members of the top four. "Maybe you have this feeling, but I don`t."
"I played in the final of the last three Grand Slams and I`ve had a good season. I lost a few important matches this season, but I won a few ones too. I`m happy about my year."
"I didn`t have a perfect year, but I`ve had a very good year. I`ve been out of competition for a little while and that`s probably why the focus is on others," added the Mallorcan who will lead Spain in the Davis Cup final next month against Argentina.
Djokovic, despite his shoulder problems, will be the man to beat in London, having won three of the years four grand slams and the Masters Series events in Canada, Rome, Madrid, Indian Wells and Miami. But Nadal says he is not desperate to re-assert his authority over the Serb who until this year he had beaten in 16 of their 23 matches.
"It`s probably the highest level of tennis that I ever saw," Nadal said of Djokovic who has beaten him in six finals this year on three different surfaces.
"But I`m not working every day thinking about Novak. I`m working and thinking about what I need to do to keep improving, to be a better player. That`s what I`ve done all my career and what I want to keep doing.
"Novak had an unbelievable season. What he did is very difficult to repeat. His level of tennis was very, very high. He beat me and he was playing better than me. That`s why he was able to win almost every match during the season."
Nadal will face great rival Federer for the first time in round-robin play next week -- a repeat of last year`s final at the O2 won by the Swiss 16-times grand slam champion.
Federer is seeking a record sixth title at the season-ender, to move him clear of Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras.
He opens play on Sunday against Joe-Wilfried Tsonga, but his clash with Nadal will be one of the highlights of the week.
"I always enjoy playing against Rafa," Federer said. "It goes without saying that I enjoyed that match (last year`s final) but I also enjoyed the matches I lost like the Wimbledon finals, the Rome finals. We`ve had some epic battles against each other and I`m happy that we have another one here."
Djokovic has a Monday start against Tomas Berdych.