Nadal targets Djokovic China record on return
BEIJING: Rafael Nadal makes his long-awaited return to action at the China Open this week, where he will be seeking to challenge world number one Novak Djokovic's 100 percent record in Beijing.
Nadal, who has not competed since Wimbledon after picking up a right wrist injury, makes his comeback at a tournament he has happy memories of from last year, when he reclaimed the top spot after a previous injury layoff.
The Spaniard returned to number one after dominating 2013's hardcourt events and making the final at Beijing's Olympic Park, a game he lost to Serb Djokovic.
The current world number three has slipped down the rankings due to his absence from competition, and with Djokovic winning four of the last tournaments he entered in Beijing, the 28-year-old knows he will have a battle on his hands to close the gap on his fiercest rival.
"Novak dominates, you know, almost all the tournaments," said the 2005 China Open winner in Beijing.
"He's always there, semi-finals, finals, winning. He's one of the best players that I have ever seen.
"Normally he likes to play here. We'll see what's going on this year."
Nadal said he felt "fine" following his injury and that his motivation was "high" heading into the tournament.
"I just feel the wrist a little bit when I am starting, when I start to play every day, but then it disappears. I'm in good conditions to compete again," he said.
The second seed in Beijing is 1,505 ATP points behind top seed Djokovic, who has a 19-0 record at the China Open.
Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer will not be in Beijing this year, but the last of the 'Big Four' player - Britain's Andy Murray - has received a wildcard into the tournament and is the sixth seed.
The world number 11 is currently chasing points to make November's ATP World Tour Finals in London, which features the top eight men's players.
Nadal faces Richard Gasquet in his opening match and has won all his previous 12 meetings with the French world number 21.
Djokovic faces Spaniard Guillermo Garcia Lopez in his opening match, and could meet Murray in a possible semi-final. Czech player Tomas Berdych is seeded third in Nadal's side of the drawer.
- Eye on Singapore finale -
In the women's competition, world number one Serena Williams is aiming to reclaim the title she won last year and faces Spaniard Silvia Soler-Espinosa in her first round match.
The power-hitting American had a disappointing return to action following her US Open victory earlier this month, going out in her opening match at the Wuhan Open with a viral illness on Tuesday.
Romanian rising star Simona Halep is the second seed in Beijing, while world number three Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki, who is ranked seventh, Eugenie Bouchard, and Elina Svitolina of Ukraine all receive byes for the first round because they were semi-finalists in Wuhan.
With her victory in the Wuhan final Saturday, Czech Wimbledon champion Kvitova confirmed her place in next month's WTA Finals, the season-ending finale featuring the world's top eight women players.
Others who could be seal their presence for Singapore in Beijing include eighth seed Canadian Bouchard, sixth seed Dane Wozniacki, Serb Ana Ivanovic, who is seeded ninth, and Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, who is the fifth seed.
Williams, Halep and Maria Sharapova, the fourth seed in Beijing, have already confirmed their places at the WTA Finals.
Chinese superstar Li Na announced her retirement days before the premier-ranking tournament in Wuhan, her home city, but a ceremony recognising the career of the two-time Grand Slam champion is planned during the China Open. (AFP)