SEVILLE, Spain (AFP) - After a long and gruelling season, Rafael Nadal will seek to summon his last reserves of strength when Spain tackle Argentina in the Davis Cup final in Seville this weekend.
Seven years ago, in the same Estadio Olimpico, an 18-year-old Nadal became the youngest player to win the Davis Cup in the event’s history after overwhelming America’s Andy Roddick with a thrilling display of his potential.
He has not disappointed since.
With 10 Grand Slam victories, an Olympic gold medal, two more Davis Cup titles and 102 weeks at world number one to his name, the 25-year-old is already one of the most decorated players in tennis.
And yet, amid questions about his physical capacity and the emergence of new world number one Novak Djokovic, the Mallorcan is beginning to show increasing signs of weakness.
Nadal’s all-action style has long prompted concern for his physical well-being but in recent weeks he has shown symptoms of mental fatigue as well.
He admitted as much after his elimination by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the ATP Tour Finals in London last month.
“I probably feel a bit less passion for the game,” he said when asked about the second half of the 2011 season and the fact he has not picked up a single title since the French Open.
However, asked about his comments upon his arrival in Seville, he insisted they had been taken out of context.
“It’s exaggerated. My words were overstated,” he said.
“But it’s true that the season has been difficult. Yes, you can talk about wear and tear after so many years of playing at this level, week after week.”
In order to rekindle his love of competition, Nadal is counting on “the smell” and “the excitement” of the Davis Cup, despite having had an ambiguous relationship with the competition in the past.
The tournament has given him unforgettable moments since the age of 14, when he was chosen to be Spain’s flag-bearer prior to the 2002 final against Australia in Barcelona, which the hosts won.
“It was the kind of experience you never forget,” he said.
At the same time, he occasionally elects not to participate, argues for the event to be held every two years -- instead of every year -- and has suggested he could be tempted to rule himself out of the entire 2012 campaign.
When he does turn up, though, he tends not to take prisoners.
“The last time he played in the Davis Cup, it was four days after the US Open final and he beat (Richard) Gasquet 6-3, 6-0, 6-1 and Tsonga 6-0, 6-2, 6-4!” recalled Argentina captain Modesto Vazquez, referring to Spain’s semi-final victory over France.
In the 2008 final, meanwhile, he gave no chance to the Czech Tomas Berdych despite having just lost six sets out of six in his three matches at the ATP Tour Finals.
Each time, the return to his preferred clay surface was enough to revitalise him.
“The surface helps me,” admitted Nadal. “It gives me confidence and more time to reflect, which is important when you’re tired.”