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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.

  • Tennis

Hard work pays off big time for Nadal

Chris Wilkinson October 8, 2013
Nadal has usurped Djokovic as No. 1, but the latter's victory in China shows just how intense this rivalry will be © AP
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I can't really start anywhere else other than new world No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

It's incredible what he's achieved. His surprise first-round exit at Wimbledon was a case of him being fatigued from the French Open, which he won. But his big comeback was at the beginning of the year, having had seven months out.

After Wimbledon last year, at which he was also knocked out early on, he had all that time out, but this time he's gone from strength to strength and what I've been impressed with was he was able to do it on the hard courts where he's lost just a single match and picked up a number of titles, including the US Open.

He's changed his game, too. He's hitting his forehand a little harder, his forehand down the line is a lot better and that has made him a far better hard court player. There are a lot of things he is doing this year that have improved, especially the combination of his serve and his forehand - something he's had to often think about and work on.

Don't underestimate how much winning builds your confidence, but his hard court game has been more aggressive and that's been the key to his domination this year.

The only thing that could have stopped Nadal this year is his knees. He's just played phenomenal tennis, chewing everyone up. Djokovic had a bit of a chance in the third set of the US Open final but Nadal is such a fighter - and it's those qualities that make him what he is.

It's difficult to say how players could have stopped his run. Djokovic is the only one really with the game to do damage against Nadal. I wasn't overly surprised Djokovic beat Nadal in Beijing - he had to lose some time! - and Djokovic would have been determined to prove that he could beat this guy who has taken his No. 1 spot, so he had far more incentive.

But Djokovic plays a way where he takes his backhand early and gets it across court which rushes Nadal a bit more. For Nadal to beat Djokovic, Nadal needs to be more on his game than ever.

This is definitely the big rivalry for next year - and you can throw Andy Murray in the equation, too. Roger Federer will struggle to keep up so you've got a three-ball and who can pitch in the fourth position and challenge them?

Murray should sit out the ATP Tour Finals to ensure he is in peak condition for Australia © Getty Images
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Speaking of Murray, I'm not a doctor but I don't think he should play at the ATP Tour Finals.

I'm pretty sure he will save his back so he has a longer recovery period going in to the new season and, of course, the Australian Open. It's a huge shame for the Tour Finals because he is British and it adds a bit of spice to the tournament but obviously he's doing the right thing - and if you're going to take time off this is definitely the time to do it.

He has to bear in mind that rushing back into action could have longer term effects and could see him miss large chunks of next year, too. He's got to be sensible, but we have to remember he has played a lot of 2013 with this back issue, so for him to win as many matches as he has and to achieve what he has achieved is something else.

And it shouldn't take away from what will be a really exciting ATP Tour Finals and one of the most open in recent history. Players like Milos Raonic and John Isner are knocking on the door, as well as the likes of Stan Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet fighting for their places. Looking at the rankings, there are a few new faces who are going to have a chance to play at the 02 and it's fantastic to have that variety.

There are two more Masters events, Shanghai and Paris - which Nadal said he was going to play. He also said he's going to play in Basle, so he is gunning for as many points as he can.

Finally, a quick word on the girls, because it has been a tough year for Heather Watson. Glandular fever can take years to fully recover from, and it seems she is still battling that. She's changed her coach as well and one of the most difficult things to do in tennis is back up a good year. Players get to know the way you play and a lot of things happen to you differently. It all adds up to the disappointment that has been this year.

Laura Robson, meanwhile, has had a good year - despite a couple of recent setbacks - and she should be looking to go one better in 2014. There is still some improvement to be made, but she has a big enough game to win a title and target the top 20.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Follow him @chriswilks12

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.