- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) - RIO DE JANEIRO - Rafael Nadal says he’s free of “physical problems” as his clay-court season starts next week in the Rio de Janeiro Open.

It’s anyone’s guess how the Spaniard will play, coming off illness and injuries last season and two surprising losses already this year.

He’s the world’s best on clay, winning nine of the last 10 French Opens. But he hasn’t played since losing in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, and the Rio heat will be stifling. He also plans to march Sunday in an annual Carnival parade, a late night of dancing and dining.

It was 38 C (100 F) on Friday with the same temperatures predicted for next week.

“I think this heat would affect anybody,” Nadal said. “It’s very difficult with these conditions. The conditions are extreme, with high humidity on top of that. If it doesn’t cool off, I’ll suffer and try to survive any way I can.”

In addition to losing to Tomas Berdych in Australia - ending a 17-match winning streak against the Czech - Nadal also lost his first match at the Qatar Open to Thomas Berrer.

He’s hoping to find his form during the Latin American clay-court season, his third swing through South America. He arrived with injuries the last two times. This time he says he’s better.

“I’m feeling well physically,” he said.

Despite the reply, he received several other questions from reporters about his health, always hinting that his physical style could shorten his career.

He’s 28 and has won 14 Grand Slam titles. He’s also slimmed down, appearing much lighter than he was when he won here a year ago.

“The physical side has helped me during my entire career,” Nadal said. “The physical part has been what has helped me get where I am and have the career I have had. … If I’m not well physically, it’s impossible to aspire to big things. I need to have confidence in my body and my tennis to compete.”

When Nadal arrived last month in Australia, he said he wasn’t ready to win.

The same question Friday received a similar reply, even from the so-called “King of Clay.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready to win here or not,” he said. “I’m going to try to be ready for Tuesday and be competitive, and then we’ll see what’s going on. It’s my first tournament on clay after a long time, and always you need time to adapt.”

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP


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