Rafael Nadal made a miserable start to the first season he has ever begun as world No. 1, losing in the Qatar Open quarter-finals to Gael Monfils in less than an hour and a half on Thursday. But although the Wimbledon, French Open and Olympic champion was not at his best, he certainly did enough to have survived against most other players apart from the superbly in-form Monfils.
The 22-year-old Frenchman reminded everyone during his 6-4, 6-4 win that he was tipped as a future world No. 1 himself and that he still has the speed of foot, the weight of shot, the passion and enough time left to achieve that goal.
It did though raise questions as to whether or not Nadal — who was also beaten by Andy Murray in an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi on Sunday — might have had his off-season preparation affected by the troublesome knee injuries that caused him to miss the last two events of last year.
But he insisted that he had no worries.
“There’s no damage to my confidence,” Nadal said. “I knew before the match that the beginning of the season was not going to be easy because, although I have had more rest than other players, I have also had more time outside of competition than others. So it is a little bit more difficult to come back fast to my rhythm. I have had two matches here and five altogether, so I leave here with positive feelings when I go to Australia.”
World No. 13 Monfils will face Andy Roddick, who defeated Romania’s Victor Hanescu.
“I didn’t let him breathe when he was tired and I was a little bit lucky,” Monfils said. “But still I believed in myself to keep the advantage. I knew if I just played my game I could do well against him.”
The other semi-final will be a mouthwatering clash between Roger Federer and Murray, a repeat of the US Open final won by the Swiss. Federer enjoyed a 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) win against Philipp Kohlschreiber, the eighth-seeded German, coming from 3/6 down in the tie-break to win it 8/6 with five perfectly played points in a row.
Murray also enjoyed a hot streak during his 6-2, 6-4 win over Sergiy Stakhovsky of the Ukraine, which was a repeat of their US junior open final of 2004. From 3-4 down in the first set, the Scot won 23 points out of 25, scoring points in such a wide variety of ways it underlined him as a serious threat to the top two.
“My problem is I’m not playing him in a final,” Federer joked. “I’ve not beaten him when it isn’t.”
Murray won three of their four meetings last year, but Federer looks in encouraging form.
The Scot was warned by the umpire in the second set for illegal coaching from the sidelines by coach Myles MacLagan.
“It’s the first time I’ve been warned for coaching. The umpire said he saw his [Maclagan’s] mouth move for four or five seconds, so it couldn’t just be encouragement,” Murray said. “I said that he couldn’t warn me if you can’t hear what was said. But the whole thing fired me up.”