By Rex Gowar
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal wants tournament organizers to maintain the tradition of clay courts on the Tour and said the growing number of events switching to harder surfaces could increase the injury risk to players long after they finish their careers.
Nadal, who won his first title of the year with a 6-4 6-1 victory over Juan Monaco in a rain-interrupted Argentine Open on Sunday, said it was also important to maintain variety on the Tour to keep players and spectators interested.
The Argentine Open, now in its 15th year and a regular stop on the South American clay-court swing, has flirted with the idea of a change to a faster surface to widen its appeal.
“Clay is a traditional surface of our sport, we need to protect that,” Nadal told Reuters after his victory over Argentine Monaco at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.
“Sport is bigger when you combine new and show events with traditional events.
“We are changing more and more tournaments from clay to hard surfaces but the hard surface is more aggressive so there are more and more injuries,” said the 28-year-old, who played only seven matches in the second half of 2014 as he struggled to recover from a wrist injury and then appendicitis.
“You can check on the tour (statistics) that many players have injuries so there is something we are doing badly, the people who manage (tennis), that is not right.
“In my opinion, it’s important to be healthy not only during your career but also afterwards because you have a life outside tennis and after your career,” added Nadal, whose title in Buenos Aires was his 65th but first since a record ninth French Open crown last June.
“Most of the players on the Tour like sport in general so we want to keep having chances to practice sport and enjoying life.
“When I finish (my career) I would like to be able to play a game of football with friends but playing so much on hardcourts complicates that.”
'NO PHYSICAL PROBLEMS'
Nadal, working towards regaining his best form after injury, earlier told a post-match news conference that he was pleased with how his season was progressing.
“I’m playing a little better every day," he added. "I said when I arrived in Buenos Aires I feel closer to level than one month ago.
“Winning titles helps to continue working, the injuries are in the past, I have no physical problems,” said the 14-times grand slam singles champion.
“In terms of tennis, in the past I have been able to get back to my best level (after injury). As you get older it gets harder but I don’t see why not, I have the motivation and passion.”
Nadal, who will play at Indian Wells in a week’s time, saw the second half of his 2012 season wiped out due to tendonitis after suffering a second round exit at Wimbledon.
But the Spaniard came back in February the following year and went on to win 10 titles and recover his number one ranking.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)