For Rafael Nadal, the simple fact that he was able to contest a competitive match against the undisputed world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in a semi-final round of a Masters 1000 event is a very positive sign for just a few weeks before the start of the French Open.
The seven-time champion at Monte Carlo took on his longtime rival in an entertaining battle on Saturday afternoon, and while he succumbed to the in-form Djokovic 6-3, 6-3, it was a far more competitive battle than the scoreline suggests.
“For me, is a very positive week. The most positive week of the season, without any doubt,” said Nadal. “I think, if I am able to keep doing that in the next tournament in Barcelona, and I have a tough draw, I will say that I am very well again.”
Nadal even started the match with an early break for a 2-0 lead but was unable to hold onto it.
“The way that I played yesterday and for moments today is the way that I want to play. Just with more matches playing like this, I will be confident enough to play. That level will not be the exception; it will be the normal thing. That is the thing that I need to make happen.”
Overall, while he was pushed to three sets against the likes of John Isner, Nadal finds solace in the fact that he was able to pull through various obstacles en route to the final four of the tournament.
“In general, from where I came one week ago, two weeks ago, after what happened in Miami, I go to the next tournament with the feeling that I made a big improvement in my game, in my mental part. I hope this tournament is a key moment for my season.
“We cannot forget that I got injured last year for six months. So for six months, I didn’t play one match of intensity, because when I came back I played two tournaments (in 2014). It is difficult to have a feeling after that. Then Basel, having that appendicitis… So there were six months without playing that kind of (high) level matches.”
The Spaniard still refuses to project into the future, opting instead to think positively about his gradual return and focus on each step along the way.
“The most important thing, what’s helping me really, is that I am with the right motivation to play tennis, the right motivation to work hard every day, and with the right attitude. That’s why I was able to play better this week than the previous weeks.”