The Sony Open may style itself as the ‘Fifth Grand Slam’ but it remains one of the most glaring omissions on Rafael Nadal’s extensive CV. After a decade of trying, the Spaniard has come tantalisingly close on three occasions but things have yet to fall in his favour in Miami thus far.
Nadal has accomplished almost everything on offer in the game bar winning the World Tour Finals and a handful of Masters crowns (apart from Miami, the others are Shanghai and Paris) but having already won so many glittering trophies, Nadal says he’s not interested in purely focusing on erasing the remaining gaps in his resume, he simply tries to perform his best in every event.
“I would love to win here any year, but if I said I’m extra motivated for Miami I would be lying to you,” Nadal said earlier this week.
“When I am playing any tournament, I always try my best, in every tournament, in every match.”
However in general, all the Spanish players look forward to competing in Miami due to the strong Latin supporters contingent which always turns out in force.
They’ve definitely inspired 2013 finalist David Ferrer over the year as he possesses a superb record at the event.
“It is different because there are a lot of Latinos here, so that makes the tournament a little more special for us,” Nadal agreed.
“I really feel loved from the people of America wherever I play over here, but it’s true that with all the Latin communities, it's really special.”
Nadal certainly has a golden chance of reaching his fourth Miami final this week, with a relatively clear path through to the last four.
The draw has been extremely kind to him this fortnight, putting him in the opposite half to Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and DFerrer who are all in a loaded bottom section.
In contrast, Nadal will not face anyone inside the top ten until the semi-finals where he could play either Stanislas Wawrinka or Tomas Berdych, but after his shock defeat to Alex Dolgopolov in Indian Wells, as usual he’s taking nothing for granted.
“I didn't play well that day,” Nadal admitted.
“He played better than me. He deserved the victory. I fought until the end but it was not the day. But since then I’ve just tried to keep practicing hard to be ready for here.”
The tennis tour can be relentless, particularly when you win titles with as much regularity as Nadal but its intensity has one big advantage, you never have too long to dwell on a defeat and the Spaniard said he quickly moved on from the Dolgopolov loss.
“One of the really negative things about tennis is that when you win you don't have time to celebrate,” Nadal said.
“After a few days you’re under pressure and you need to be ready again. But the positive thing is that when you lose, in a short period of time you get to play again. So on one hand it’s good but on the other hand, not so good.
After Indian Wells I immediately knew I’d soon have more opportunities to play better, and I hope I will do.”
Nadal may have missed out on winning a second Australian Open in January (and in doing so, becoming the first player ever to have won all four Grand Slams at least twice) but he’s still absolutely delighted with his start to 2014 which has seen him claim titles in Doha and Rio.
“Playing four tournaments and ending up with three finals and two victories is a great start,” Nadal said.
“I don't consider myself so good as to not be happy with this. But I can still improve. Even after I won in Rio, I felt that I can play better. I need a little bit of time to practice and find more confidence with my serve, with my movements.”
Nadal currently holds a mammoth points lead over Djokovic and Wawrinka in the rankings but he does have a huge points haul to defend over the clay-court season, as ever.
It’s never been a problem for him in the past but he says he’s always prepared for his dominance on the surface to suddenly end.
“If I’m not playing good tennis, it doesn’t matter what the surface is,” he said.
“I’ve had a lot of success on clay during the last probably nine, ten years. It's obviously a surface that has helped me to find the right feelings on the court. But clay doesn't guarantee success. I know how I have to play to do well but if you are not playing at the top level, you’re not going to win.”