NEW YORK • Tennis star Rafael Nadal has sounded a philosophical note about a season well below his accustomed standard of excellence, but the Spaniard insists the fire is still burning.
"The passion is there," he told reporters on Wednesday, before taking the court against Australian Lleyton Hewitt at a fund-raiser to support young New York-area tennis players at John McEnroe's tennis academy on Randall's Island.
The 14-time Major winner has claimed three lesser titles this year but has disappointed in the biggest events. He has also seen his world ranking slip to eight, the lowest he has been since he won his maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open a decade ago.
After losing to compatriot Feliciano Lopez in his second match in Cincinnati last week, Nadal sounded almost accustomed to a string of results that included two losses to men outside the top 100 and a 13-10 record against those in the top 30.
"Losing matches, that's part of my career, too," he said, adding that losing was something "I have to accept now".
But Nadal has been upbeat in the run-up to the US Open, which starts on Monday and is his last chance to continue his run of winning at least one Grand Slam title over the last 10 years.
"My feeling today is that I am playing much better than most of the time in the season," said Nadal, who has been relaxed and playful around town this week, playing a form of "strip tennis" against some Tommy Hilfiger models in a midtown Manhattan park to promote a new line of underwear.
"I have been losing matches that I should win. During the season, there are some key moments that change the dynamic and I lost all the opportunities to change the dynamic in those key moments."
The two-time US Open winner (2010, 2013), whose unrelenting muscular effort on court was a hallmark of his success, sounded confident about a turnaround after missing last year with a wrist injury.
"I am happy with the way I am practising and I'm feeling well I can say," said the 29-year-old , stressing that he has been injury-free.
"Now I need to win. And I need to be impassioned.
"I need to keep working with the same intensity and passion and I believe the results will come back."