Nadal feels "very close" to Slam-winning form as Djokovic ponders his own Slam possibilities

Since 2004, this is the first year in which Nadal has not won any major titles, he hopes to change that at US Open

Afp August 30, 2015

NEW YORK: Former world number one Rafael Nadal, struggling through what the Spaniard called his worst campaign in 11 years, said Saturday his form is very close to returning to top level.

Nadal has won titles this season at Hamburg, Stuttgart and Buenos Aires, but his record is 42-14 and he has slipped to the the eighth seed for the US Open, the final major championship of the year that begins Monday in New York.

"It's a challenge for me to find the feel that I arrived at so many times in my career," Nadal said. "The level of tennis is very close to being back there."

Read: Serena, Djokovic, Nadal start Monday at US Open

The 29-year-old star has won 14 Grand Slam crowns but this will be the first year since 2004 he has not collected one of the major titles unless he pulls a shocker on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts.

"After a tough year for me, I feel today close to being at the level of tennis where I have been in the past," Nadal said.

"That doesn't mean I'm going to win but in terms of tennis, I'm closer than at any point in the past 12 months to playing at the level of tennis where I've been before.

"It might not be this week or next, but the results will come. The results will be back. I know that."

Read: Federer, Nadal at US Open crossroads

Germany's Dustin Brown sent Nadal packing in the second round at Wimbledon after he made quarter-final exits at the Australian and French Opens, falling to top-ranked Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros to snap a 39-match win streak on the Paris red clay where he had won nine of the prior 10 titles.

Nadal, nagged by sore knees for years, lost to Japanese fourth seed Kei Nishikori in the Montreal quarter-finals and to Feliciano Lopez in the round of 16 at Cincinnati in his US Open tune-up events but has built confidence along the way.

"I'm not having the best season personally. Worst season in 11 years," Nadal said. "But I still think I can be a dangerous player in some moments."

Djokovic, a possible US Open quarter-final foe for Nadal as he bids for a third Grand Slam title this year, warned not to underestimate Nadal's champion's heart.

"He puts so much intensity into his game that sometimes his body suffers more," Djokovic said of Nadal.

"He's one of the best and hardest-working guys I know. You can't sign Nadal out. He has won 14 Grand Slam titles. He deserves to be among the favorites."

"It's normal he has great respect for me," Nadal said in reply. "That match is in quarter-final. I will have to work a lot to get there."

First, Nadal must get past a Monday opener against Croatia's Borna Coric, who won their only prior meeting last year in Basel.

"He's a tough player. He's a good competitor," Nadal said.

"He's a strong player with a good serve and good backhand.

"I don't remember very well that match in Basel but I think I played pretty bad and he played pretty well. Monday, I hope it will be a different story."

Djokovic ponders his own Slam possibilities

Not since Australian legend Rod Laver in 1969 has a man completed a calendar year Grand Slam, but top-ranked Novak Djokovic believes he could be the next man to do it.

The 28-year-old Serbian top seed will launch his US Open campaign Monday against Brazil's Joao Souza at Arthur Ashe Stadium, where he will serve as the warm-up act before Serena Williams opens the night session.

Three-time defending champion Williams is trying to complete the calendar Slam, last accomplished in 1988 by Steffi Graf, and win her 22nd career major title, matching Graf for the Open Era record.

Read: Serena Williams chases calendar Slam, history at US Open

"I am sending her good vibes. I hope she does it. She's a true champion and she is impressive."

But Djokovic, seeking his 10th career Slam title, is only one match shy of coming to the Flushing Meadows fortnight with the same chance as Williams at a calendar-year Slam sweep.

Djokovic lost the French Open final to Swiss Stan Wawrinka after beating Britain's Andy Murray in the Australian Open final and before he downed Swiss 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final.

"I have been close and that gives me enough reason to believe that I can achieve that," Djokovic said of the calendar-year Slam.

"I'm trying to win every Grand Slam I play. I set myselfr up for high standards because of the results I've had the last couple of years. I'm an ambitious guy and I devote myself completely to the sport."

"Will that happen or not? I cannot predict and say yes or no, but I can definitely tell you that I give my best."

Djokovic can win three Slams in the same year for the second time in his career if he takes the trophy in two weeks. In 2011, he won the US and Australian Opens and Wimbledon but lost to Spanish star Rafael Nadal in Djokovic's first trip to the Roland Garros final.

That defeat also foiled Djokovic's bid for a "Novak Slam" -- holding all four major trophies at the same time, even though it didn't happen in a single calendar year.

Djokovic sees himself as a much different player than he was in 2011 when he won three Slams in an epic season.

"I'm a different person, a different player than I was in 2011 so it's kind of hard to compare tennis-wise," Djokovic said. "Physically I'm stronger and able to endure longer than I did in 2011.

"As you grow older you are trying to develop your game and get to the highest level possible. I think this season, results-wise, pretty close to 2011. What I achieved in 2011 is hard to repeat, so this season is definitely just behind that one."


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