KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- You remember Rafael Nadal. He's the left-handed Spaniard with the long hair and crazy pants, which have been described as three-quarter clam diggers, pirate pants or Capri's for men.
You remember him, right? Because it seems like the tennis world has forgotten just how good he is.
|Rafael Nadal: 'Right now I am feeling like I'm playing at my best level.' (AP)|
The headlines this year for the men have been about Roger Federer losing, Novak Djokovic as the next great player and Andy Roddick getting engaged to model Brooklyn Decker. Even Monday, Russian Mikhail Youzhny became a YouTube celebrity when he hit himself in the head three times with his own racket and started bleeding on the court.
If you didn't see it, look it up.
As for Nadal, he just continues to play his game, and he did a good job of it Wednesday at the Sony Ericsson Open. Nadal rallied to beat No. 9 seed James Blake 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 on the Stadium Court to reach the semifinals. Nadal has a good chance to win the tournament, and he is excited about his chances.
"Right now I am feeling like I am playing at my best level, so that's important to come to the clay season with more confidence," Nadal said after beating Blake.
Nadal knows it would take a win here to make him relevant again even though he recently downplayed his lack of recognition. When asked earlier in the tournament if he noticed a change among the elite men, Nadal said no.
"I think Djokovic is the No. 1 right now," Nadal said. "He's a very good player. I am No. 2, so my position doesn't change. And Federer, he's not far away from the top. Roddick is still there, too, so for me not much changes."
The change is not in the rankings but in the perception. Nadal is trying to show he can eventually be the No. 1 player in the world and not just the best player on clay.
Last year, Nadal became the first player to finish No. 2 for three consecutive years. He dominated the clay season and won the French Open for the third year in a row.
But Nadal wants to show he is more than a one-dimensional player. He wants to be the best in the world, which is still possible at 21 and with a long career ahead.
It might be a goal he can attain this year with Federer, who remains No. 1, struggling and still looking for his first tournament victory, and Djokovic still trailing at No. 3.