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Nadal has special memories of U.S. Open

8/19/2011Rafaholics ™

Nadal has 'special memories' of U.S. Open

The Spaniard won the U.S. Open last year, becoming only the seventh player to win all four Grand Slam events. The U.S. Open was the most elusive for Nadal, who was so overcome with emotion after beating Novak Djokovic that he collapsed on the hard, blue court and lay face down while the emotions washed over him.

In an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, Nadal said that moment — and many others leading up to his first triumph at Flushing Meadows — have stuck with him as the defending champion.

"When you win in a place on the tournament and you come back to that (place), you always have special memories for there," Nadal said. "I spent very important moments for my career there, and very emotional moments.

"For sure, it's a little bit more special. But you're talking about the emotions. Talking about the play is different."

The 25-year-old Spaniard appears to be in good shape to give it another go. He's had a few injuries this season, though. He tore a muscle in his right leg during a quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open, hurt his left foot at Wimbledon but made it to the title match, where he lost to Djokovic.

And there was a strange, minor one when he arrived in Cincinnati for the Western & Southern Open, a tune-up tournament for the U.S. Open. The left-handed Nadal went to a restaurant, grabbed a plate with his right hand and burned the tips of his index and middle finger.

He uses his right hand to steady his backhand, so the fingers — wrapped for protection — come into play. Nadal was careful when shaking hands before and after the interview, with gauze wrapped around the fingertips.

His bigger concern is getting enough matches to get back into top competitive shape for the U.S. Open, which starts on Aug. 29. He had to have the injured foot numbed for his matches at Wimbledon, then took time off to let it heal. He beat Julien Benneteau 6-4, 7-5 on Tuesday.

"I had a fantastic season," said Nadal, currently ranked No. 2 behind Djokovic. "I probably played more finals than ever. The problem is I lost five. The season has been really good.

"I am fine. I didn't practice as much as I would love to do before the American hard-court season. I had the foot problem in Wimbledon, so I had to stop for almost a month. I didn't practice enough. I am trying my best every day."

He knows he'll get more attention when he shows up in New York this time. That winning moment surely will get replayed a lot in the buildup.

"You win a Grand Slam, the emotions are very high," Nadal said. "I won the U.S. Open. This is the tournament that I see the most difficult one for me to win. I never played well there before last year. I try to find different solutions to play well there.

"The personal satisfaction for me to win there — finally, the last Grand Slam for me, I won all four Grand Slams. For me, is more than a dream and something I never thought I'd do."

Nadal is doing something new in conjunction with his title defense. He's becoming an international spokesman for Bacardi Ltd.'s campaign promoting responsible drinking — the first time he's done anything like it. Driver Michael Schumacher was the first sports figure featured in its "Champions Drink Responsibly" campaign.

Nadal was initially hesitant to do anything associated with alcohol, until he learned the focus. Nadal said he knows people who have been hurt in alcohol-related accidents.

"I believe in the campaign," he said. "Almost everybody drinks alcohol, but the campaign is promoting if you want to go out and drink, drink responsibly. Have a plan to come home.

"I am young, so I love to promote these things (to young people). If I can influence them with the right way, I will be happy in that."

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