In Rafael Nadal's words: 'I have improved my hard-court game'

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In Rafael Nadal's words: 'I have improved my hard-court game'

What a difference half a year makes! In February 2005, Rafael Nadal had to battle with Ricardo Mello for two and a half hours en route to the title in Costa do Sauipe. In August, the Spaniard would lose three games against the Brazilian in the second round of the Canada Masters in Montreal, securing the place in the third round.

A lot had happened between those two encounters, with Nadal becoming one of the world's best players by August after a fantastic run in his first notable season. Rafa won two ATP titles in February on clay, advancing into the final in Miami and claiming the first Masters 1000 crown in Monte Carlo.

Barcelona and Rome were also conquered by the youngster who then made a perfect Roland Garros debut, beating Roger Federer and Mariano Puerta to lift the first Major trophy and become world no. 3.

Rafa didn't play well on grass, losing early in Halle and Wimbledon.

He would bounce back quickly, though, winning titles in Bastad and Stuttgart and taking a break ahead of Montreal.

Playing for the first time as world no. 2, Nadal made a winning start at the Canada Masters thanks to a 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 victory over a compatriot and friend Carlos Moya. The youngster had a more relaxed day at the office in the second round, toppling Ricardo Mello 6-1, 6-2 in 66 minutes, dominating from start to finish.

The Spaniard dropped 11 points in eight service games, facing no break points and taking 56% of the return points to grab four breaks from seven opportunities and sail into the last 16. "When I played against Melo in Brazil, it was a reliable performance but without this confidence I now have.

He played in front of the home crowd that gave him big support, and couldn't repeat that today. Also, I have improved my game. My results are not that good on an indoor court but they are fine on an outdoor hard. I reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and the final in Miami.

The court is a bit faster than in Indian Wells and Miami but I felt good, playing well from start to finish. Yesterday, I beat Carlos Moya in a tight match and that gave me the confidence to stay focused all the time today.

We use Penn and Wilson balls at the Masters 1000 events and the US Open in North America; it would be better to have one instead, but that's how it is. Grosjean is my next rival and it should be a difficult match; he is an excellent player.

I will try to give my best and reach the quarters, which would be a great result for me at the Masters 1000 event on hard court," said Rafael Nadal.