Wimbledon champion Nadal sets sights on US Open
The VIP guests at the Wimbledon Champions' Dinner in London on Sunday night had already finished their rare sirloin of beef and were well into the golden supreme of south coast halibut by the time the star of the show appeared.
It was just as well that Rafael Nadal had found time earlier in the evening, between a succession of post-match interviews, to wolf down a pizza margarita with mushrooms in the All England Club's media centre.
A man of simple pleasures, the 24-year-old Spaniard had also favoured a choc ice over the champagne that was on offer in the locker room immediately after his victory over Tomas Berdych.
The bad news for Nadal's rivals, however, is that the world No 1 is still hungry, his appetite for success undiminished by his second triumph at what he calls his “favourite tournament in the world”. His Wimbledon victory on Sunday was his 41st senior title and his eighth at Grand Slam level.
“I want to learn, to improve,” Nadal said as he looked to the future. “The important thing is to work like I have all my life. Winning or losing can be decided by very small things, but you have to make opportunities for yourself.”
Nadal's future always has to be hedged with provisos about his troublesome knees — he will take advantage of the break before his next tournament in Toronto in a month's time to undergo further treatment — but if he maintains his current rate of progress he will rewrite the record books.
The Majorcan has won his eighth Grand Slam titles at the age of 24 and one month; Roger Federer, who holds the record of 16 Grand Slam victories, won his eighth (at Wimbledon in 2006) when he was 24 and 11 months.
Where Federer may hold the advantage is that he has always been able to excel on any surface.
Nadal has now won two grass-court Grand Slam titles and five on clay, but last year's Australian Open triumph remains his only success at that level on hard courts.
While Nadal has won nine titles on hard courts he has yet to reach a US Open final. Giving so much in the clay and grass-court seasons has clearly affected his late-summer New York campaigns in the past. Will he do better this year?
“It is very difficult,” Nadal admitted. “I hope to be ready, to be healthy, because for the last few years I've had problems. Last year I had abdominal trouble. Two years ago I arrived at the semi-finals against Andy Murray totally exhausted mentally and physically after the Olympics and winning here at Wimbledon.
“This year things might be a bit different. Now the most important thing for me is to rest in Majorca, to enjoy the summer there and then have three weeks' practice at home, like a mini pre-season. I will try to work as I did in December, which was very good for me. I started the season playing my best tennis, though I didn't win because I wasn't calm enough or confident enough, even though my level was high enough to do it.”
Yesterday's updated world rankings list provided confirmation of the gulf between Nadal and the rest. He is nearly 4,000 points ahead of his closest rival (2,000 points are awarded for a Grand Slam triumph) and he looks certain to stay at the top.
“It was never a big goal to be No 1,” the Spaniard said. “To finish the season as No 1? Yes. That is a bit more of goal. I am in a good position to do that. But what makes me happy is not being No 1, it is working hard.”