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Rafael Nadal © Gallo Images

First love: Nadal to seek refuge in clay?



You never forget your first love, and in Rafael Nadal's case that memory is dusty and orange: from next year, he may seek refuge in clay in the effort to preserve his body from injury.

"I may play more on clay and focus more on this surface," Nadal said in a recent interview.

The sentence was good news for Latin America, and in particular for the ATP tournament in Acapulco.

"I would not be surprised if Rafa were to play in Acapulco in 2013," a high ATP official told dpa.

Anchored in Mallorca since late June, with no date set for a return to the tour, Nadal is determined to get over his knee troubles. He knows it is a chronic injury, but with appropriate work on it - and time, which he cannot generally spare - he could again be able to play at the highest level.

When? Nadal himself says he does not know. His current goal is the Australian Open in January, the first Grand Slam tournament of the 2013 season, but he knows that there is nothing certain.

Or maybe there is one thing: if the former world No 1 wants to add a few extra years to his successful career and get to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympics to make up for his frustrating absence from London 2012, he needs to carefully assess not just how much he plays, but where.

That is where Acapulco comes in. Nadal already won the tournament, which is played by a fantastic beach on the Pacific, in 2005, in those few weeks in which he made the leap to become a global tennis star.

Cement hurts players' knees and other joints much more than any other type of surface. And for a man like Nadal, who has won the French Open seven times and Monte Carlo eight times, playing on clay is about as close as one can get to paradise.

He has insisted in recent times that clay and grass are "more natural" and generally better for the body than cement.

"Tennis is the only sport that is going backwards," he has complained, with reference to the growing dominance of hard courts in the tour.

And there is something else he does not say in public but does tell his entourage: Nadal would love to play that Latin American tour he played at age 18.

"We would love to have Nadal, that is obvious," Raul Zurutuza, director of the Acapulco tournament, recently told dpa.

"We will be celebrating our 20th anniversary next year, that would be a great occasion."

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