The ever-positive Rafael Nadal is confident he can end a disappointing season on a high note as he prepares for an assault on the US Open.
The 14-time Grand Slam winner is competing this week at the ATP Cincinnati Masters, which he won in 2013, the last time he played the tournament.
After an injury absence which decimated his 2014 season, Nadal has been fighting all year to make improvements to a ranking which dropped to 10th after he failed to win a 10th Roland Garros title in June.
“The last part of the season is important. I want to finish feeling better than when I started,” Nadal, 29, said.
“This is an important week for me.”
Nadal arrived in the Midwest after losing a Montreal quarter-final to Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who withdrew from the American tournament with a hip muscle problem which should be right for the US Open starting in a fortnight.
“I played OK in Montreal, but every week is a different test — a different story. I’m working more than ever to change the dynamic,” Nadal said.
With a two-hour rain interruption slowing a full day’s schedule, Ivo Karlovic still found time to produce the first upset of the week as the Croatian hammered 35 aces in a 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 6-3 defeat of French 10th seed Gilles Simon.
Belgian 13th seed David Goffin beat Lu Yen-Hsun 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.
Former top 10 American Mardy Fish began winding up his Cincinnati career with a defeat of Serb Viktor Troicki 6-2, 6-2.
Fish, who has suffered from a heart-scare problem and full-fledged anxiety attacks, will end his time on court at the US Open after dealing with his worries since 2012.
“I was a little surprised at my level, I hadn’t practised particularly well for a little while. I was struggling with my serve,” said Fish, the 2010 finalist against six-time champion Roger Federer.
Fish moved into a second-round challenge with third seed and world No 2 Andy Murray, who comes to Cincinnati after his Montreal title at the weekend over Novak Djokovic.
Australian Bernard Tomic reached the second round over Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-4, 6-3 while fellow Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis eliminated Fabio Fognini 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.
France’s Gael Monfils meanwhile stoked controversy after slumping out 6-4, 7-5 to Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz, with former US women’s singles star Tracy Austin accusing the 14th seed of not trying his best.
“To not give 100 per cent and be so blatant about it, I think it’s disrespectful,” said Austin, commentating on the game for the US-based Tennis Channel.
“It looked like exhibition tennis.”
In the women’s draw, veteran Venus Williams and young compatriot Coco Vandeweghe both notched wins over Kazakh opposition.
The 35-year-old Williams came back after the rain interruption to finish off Zarina Diyas 7-6 (8/6), 6-4, while Vandeweghe beat Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-2.
Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza, the Spanish eighth seed, lost to Yaroslava Shvedova 6-4, 7-6 (7/0) while Roland Garros semi-finalist and 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland went out 6-4, 6-3 to Madison Keys.
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