(Repeats interview first moved at 0300 GMT)
By Sreya Banerjee
WASHINGTON, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Over the past 10 weeks Rafael Nadal had little choice but to put his feet up and relax at home in Majorca while his rivals chased after the biggest prizes in the sport.
Instead of defending his cherished Wimbledon crown, Nadal had to nurse his sore knees and became an expert on how to overcome the effects of tendinitis.
Following his enforced break, the six-times grand slam champion made his comeback earlier this month in Montreal, where he sat down to have a chat with Reuters to discuss his rehabilitation, the crammed ATP schedule and his hopes for the U.S. Open, which begins at Flushing Meadows on Monday.
REUTERS: The U.S. Open is only grand slam event that you have yet to win. How does it feel going in to the tournament, especially since you were out of action for more than two months with your knee injury?
NADAL: “I think I am going to have more options in the next few years. 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 percent for the U.S. 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.”
REUTERS: How does it feel back to be on court after the long break you had to take because of the tendinitis you suffered in your knees?
NADAL: “It seems like my knees are much better. But you never know. I have to play at the top level to see how it affects my knees.”
REUTERS: Are you taking any special precautions to make sure you don’t suffer a repeat of this kind of injury again?
NADAL: “I was watching my knees with the doctors and yeah I underwent a lot of treatment. I don’t know exactly what precautions I can take but I learned something about this injury and that can be important information for the future.”
REUTERS: How far do you think this is going to affect your long term career?
NADAL: “Not at all. I wasn’t in good condition when I arrived at two important tournaments of the season — Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But otherwise I am ok. I am very happy to be back on court, excited and motivated to work hard to try and play my best tennis as soon as possible.
“After a few months outside of competition, it’s always very tough to come back after an injury but I am working hard to be ready.”
REUTERS: How much is the ATP Tour and its schedule to blame for what happened to you? Do you think the way the calendar is packed with tournaments puts a lot of pressure on players?
NADAL: “Well, it’s clear that the calendar can’t be perfect for everyone but I think that we — the players, the ATP — are working hard to try to develop the best possible calendar for the players and for the tournaments.
“I think that everyone knows that starting on January 1 and ending on December 5 is too long of a calendar but it’s not easy to fix because there are many tournament interests at play and everything is very difficult and you can’t scorn any tournament. We must try to find the best possible solution that more or less pleases everyone.”
REUTERS: What needs to need to change?
NADAL: “Things need to change. What is bad about the calendar is not just that is starts on January 1 and ends on December 5. I believe the bad thing about the calendar is how it is made and obligates you to play tournaments all year. If you want to achieve the most you can (and) go as high up (in the rankings) as you can, you have to play from the start to the finish because there are important tournaments from the beginning to the end.”
REUTERS: After your incredible win at Wimbledon last year, how much did it hurt you not to be able to defend your title this year?
NADAL: “It was always really tough. It is always really tough to lose a tournament or miss a tournament for injury, you know. 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.”
REUTERS: Three months ago you were the defending champion at three grand slam events and the world number one. Now you only have the Australian Open title in your possession and are no longer ranked number one, has that changed your outlook going into the U.S. Open?
NADAL: “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.
“That’s what I work on — improving my tennis. And to be happy playing because if I’m not happy playing, it’s very difficult to play well. I need to have the right attitude. I am going to play the next tournaments with the same aspiration and motivation as last year. Doesn’t matter.”
REUTERS: At the U.S. Open, you have the chance of becoming only the seventh man ever to win all four grand slams. Do you think about that at all? Does that weigh on your mind, the possibility and what that would mean for you?
NADAL: “Not right now, no. Right now I am only thinking of my knees and am trying to find my best performance as soon as possible.”
REUTERS. You are obviously thinking of short term goals right now, but getting back to the number one spot, is that a long term goal for you?
NADAL: “No, not right now. 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. 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.”
REUTERS. Was this break good in any way for you? Did you enjoy taking time off from the game?
NADAL: “It was tough because with this injury I couldn’t move a lot. So the doctors told me to relax and I am a very productive person. I like to always be active and playing a sport, and well, I did important things like travel around Majorca in a boat. It was unbelievable. Very nice.
“But mostly, I didn’t do much because I had to be on the sofa more than ever. I was going through more than five hours of treatment everyday.”
REUTERS: So it feels good to be back in action again?
NADAL: “Sure. It’s always a pleasure being in tournaments. Very happy to come back to the tour and I expect to be able to play my best tennis in the next weeks.”
REUTERS: Although Roger Federer won the French Open and Wimbledon titles this year, some people said his victories might be devalued because he did not beat you at the two tournaments. What is your opinion on this?
NADAL: “The important thing is to win the tournament. It doesn’t matter who you win against in the final. 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. (laughs). Doesn’t matter who the rival is.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Sonia Oxley; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org