Rafael Nadal has never been to Washington, D.C. before arriving for this week’s Citi Open, and the Spaniard is already making himself at home. The top seed on Saturday woke at 6:30 a.m. due to jetlag and went for a 90-minute walk around the capital of the United States.

“I love to be here in Washington because it’s not only a new event for me, it’s a new city. I am able to visit one of the most important cities in the world. And honestly, it’s a very beautiful city,” Nadal said during his pre-tournament press conference. “I have been able to walk around a little bit the past couple of days. I am very impressed. I hope to have a chance to visit a little bit more [of] the city during the next couple of days.

“But what I saw [was] so beautiful. [It is] a very green city, [it has] lower buildings than most of the big American cities. I am enjoying the city, I’m enjoying the people. [I am] having fun.”

Although Nadal missed Wimbledon, he saw World No. 1 Novak Djokovic win his third major title of the season at SW19, putting the Serbian a US Open trophy away from becoming the first man to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

“He’s already won three, so when you win three, you can win four, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “He’s going to be playing on hard courts, probably his best surface, so why not? Of course it’s something difficult. [There are] going to be other guys that want to achieve the last Slam of the season. But of course he’s one of the clear favourites.”

This North American hard-court swing is also an important one for Nadal, who is tied with Djokovic for the most Grand Slam singles titles with 20 and level with Djokovic for the record of ATP Masters 1000 crowns with 36. The Spaniard has certainly been impressed by Djokovic so far in 2021, and he will work hard to make his own historical pursuits over the coming weeks.

“What he achieved this year is something, well, amazing,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “I definitely believe that he can do it, without a doubt.”

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Nadal has not competed since Roland Garros due to a foot injury that kept him off the court for 20 days. The lefty returned to practice for 30 minutes and then built himself up to a return in Washington.

“Playing in Washington allows me to be on the tour one week before than what I do usually for this part of the season. But missing Wimbledon, I think that’s the right thing to do. The decision I think is the right one,” Nadal said. “Super happy to be here. [The] tournament organisation is doing amazing.”

There is an element of uncertainty for Nadal, who has not played a tournament for nearly two months. But the 88-time tour-level titlist is working hard to raise his level as much as possible before he plays Japanese lefty Yoshihito Nishioka or American wild card Jack Sock in the second round.

“I don’t know how long it will take to recover everything, but the only thing I can say is I’m here just to try my best in every single moment. I hope the past couple of days of practices keep helping me to be competitive enough for the first round,” Nadal said. “I am excited to be back playing in America after more than a year without playing here, especially playing in front of the full crowd, full stadiums.”

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