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Monday, December 7, 2009
Davis Cup whitewash validates Nadal's supremacy


Rafael Nadal might not have put together a wildly sensational year, but he delivered a strong message during the 2009 Davis Cup final this past weekend in Barcelona, where he played like a man on a mission.

Nadal's 2008 was a year that dreams are made of: a fourth consecutive French Open title, his first Wimbledon trophy, the Olympic gold medal and the No. 1 ranking.

Despite the knee injuries that prevented him from attempting to defend his Wimbledon crown and also ended his French Open reign, he still had a 2009 season that most would lust to achieve. The 23-year-old won his first Australian Open title, captured four other trophies and led Spain to a successful defense of the Davis Cup title with a 5-0 sweep of the Czech Republic.

Nadal didn't pull any punches when he arrived in Barcelona following a poor performance at the ATP World Tour Finals where he lost all three of his matches two weeks ago. He simply admitted he arrived in London without confidence.

But he immediately dismissed that disappointment to focus on Davis Cup. He adores playing for his country and teaming with his friends. And anyone would be hard-pressed to find a group of players from the same country who are so genuinely connected.

The year finally concluded for Nadal with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Jan Hajek -- his last official match of 2009. But before he went off to decompress, train for next year and spend holiday time with family and friends, he spoke with ESPN.com:

ESPN.com: Rafa, as I'm sure you know, many people have said that you haven't had a great 2009 even though you won your first Australian Open and now the Davis Cup. We know you had difficult times with your knees and missed out on playing a full year, defending your Wimbledon title and lost your French Open crown after four years. Tell us how you would assess your 2009 season?

Nadal: I'm not disappointed to hear people say that because I know how tough is everything and I know what I've done in my career. I am happy about this year, although the second half of the year, for sure, was not perfect because I had more problems than usual, so that's difficult to play well. I'm feeling great and very motivated to start next year well and to practice hard this December, which I'm going to do. I feel healthy.

The first five months of the year was the best five months of my career, when you win one Grand Slam and three Masters Series, Barcelona Open. The second half was harder with the problems with my knees and a long break, so that was more difficult. I was playing well, but it wasn't enough to win important tournaments the last part of the year. But to finish like this is always very good, and this is very important for me.

ESPN.com: If someone said to you, "Rafa, you can have whatever you want in tennis in 2010," what would be your dream achievements for 2010?

Nadal: Just to start well. Just going to the tournaments and feel I'm playing well and that I have the chance to win, that's my goal. I want to be happy playing because I'll be healthy. I'm sure I'm going to work as hard as I can and I'm going to fight every tournament, and when I have the chance to win I'm going to do it.

ESPN.com: Do you feel pressure to defend your Australian Open title and other results, winning Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome, which highlighted the first half of your 2009 season?

Nadal: No, because I know it's going to be tough to be No. 2 the first five months of the year, the ranking is sometimes up and down. I [will] have to work hard to win as many matches as I can the first half of the season because of what happened in the second half of this year.

ESPN.com: Last year, you didn't get to play in the Davis Cup final because you had a knee injury. But now you've been on the winning Davis Cup final teams in Seville in 2004 and now this year. Can you talk about your Davis Cup career?

Nadal: The first one I was in Sevilla, it was unbelievable for me. It was amazing because I won the first big match of my career against [Andy] Roddick there. It was an unforgettable moment and unforgettable memory for me in a moment that was very important in my career. Last year, when I wasn't playing in the final, when you aren't in the final, you feel part of the team because I played the rest of the year all the rounds. But when you can't be in the final, it's always disappointing. But I was watching on TV and always supporting my team when we won, so it was still a very nice feeling. This year, to be a part of this fantastic team was amazing, no? But to win 5-0 is a little bit less emotional, but it's another title.

ESPN.com: It is interesting that next year Spain will start the Davis Cup and the World Cup by facing Switzerland. Is that a bit of a good omen?

Nadal: Well, we will have to see.