ESTORIL, Portugal, April 26- Two-time French Open finalist Robin Soderling insisted he has the confidence to defeat Rafael Nadal once again on the Spanish superstar's favourite clay court surface.
"He’s a great player, especially on clay," the world number five Swede said Monday as he prepared for a second-round start in his debut at the Estoril claycourt tournament.
"But you have to go to the court thinking that you have a chance. Otherwise, what’s the point? Nadal is the best on clay ever but he can be beaten. You just have to play your best tennis and have some luck."
Soderling famously beat Nadal in the fourth round of the French Open in 2009, paving the way for a final appearance against Roger Federer which the Swiss won.
Since that breakthrough, Soderling has become a regular member of the world’s top five and reached the French Open final again last year where he lost to Nadal.
Soderling will be playing this week after missing the Monte Carlo event to let Achilles tendon and knee injuries clear.
His claycourt season debut last week in Barcelona ended in failure when he lost in the second round to eventual semi-finalist Ivan Dodig of Croatia.
But the Swede does not feel he’s in a race against time with the Madrid and Rome Masters looming before the May 22 start of the French Open.
"I wanted to play in Monte Carlo but I wasn’t ready. The clay season is long and now I’m injury-free. I feel ready to play well. This will be a tough tournament with a lot of guys who can win.
"But I’m feeling good with my game and I’ve had two and a half weeks of practice on the clay. I have to be counted among the favourites," said the Swede.
The 26-year-old backed world number three Federer to do well on clay this season.
"He is always among the guys who can win events," he said.
But he also warned of the danger posed by number two Novak Djokovic, who is on a 24-0 winning record this season and is stepping onto clay for the first time this season at home in Belgrade this week.
"It’s very even at the top of the game. Djokovic has beaten Rafa twice this year (hardcourt) but clay is totally different. Nadal is good on everything, but on clay he’s even better."
The joint ATP-WTA event got underway on MOnday with the women’s section taking centre stage.
Russian top seed Alisa Kleybanova earned a 6-2, 6-2 win over Olga Govortsova of Belarus to reach the second round while two more seeds were eliminated.
Romanian Monica Niculescu beat number five Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 as the American tested a recent hip injury while 2006 winner Zheng Jie of China crashed 6-4, 6-2 to Italy’s Romina Oprandi.
Australian Casey Dellacqua played her first match since Wimbledon after a long injury period, beating Zhang Shuai of China 6-2, 6-1.
On the men’s side, South African seventh seed Kevin Anderson recovered to defeat Dutchman Thiemo de Bakker 5-7, 6-3, 6-2 while Romania’s Victor Hanescu beat Portugal’s Rui Machado 6-3, 6-3.
Jeremy Chardy won an all-French battle over Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-3.