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US OPEN 2015: Rafael Nadal says responsibility for struggles rests with himself, not his team

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NEW YORK — Rafael Nadal has won 14 Grand Slam titles while coached by his uncle.

A few difficult months won't change his loyalty to Toni Nadal.

"I have (had) an amazing career with the team that I have today, the same team from the beginning," the younger Nadal said Tuesday. "So my feeling is if something's not working well it's not because of your team — it's because of myself. The one thing I have to change is myself."

That means playing more aggressively. And that can come with greater confidence.

Nadal insists his game is coming around, even if it doesn't show much in recent results. Then again, considering he was publicly voicing self-doubt before the French Open, this new assuredness is a notable difference.

"One of my best things during the whole of my career has been my mental strength," he said. "It is something I was not able to find that consistency during this year, but I start to see that I am again with that mentality, with that self-confidence."

Nadal is seeded just eighth going into the U.S. Open, which starts Monday. He won the tournament the last time he played in New York but was unable to defend his title last year because of a right wrist injury. Then he was sidelined again by appendix surgery.

His run of five consecutive French Open titles ended with a quarterfinal loss to Novak Djokovic, before he was upset in the second round at Wimbledon by 102nd-ranked qualifier Dustin Brown.

This month, the 29-year-old Nadal failed to make it past the quarterfinals in two hard-court warmups. But he sees the foundation for greater success, not just in the next two weeks but well beyond.

"I feel great physically, and that's important for me because that's giving me the confidence in my body that's always been very important (for) the intensity of my movements," Nadal said. "If I'm healthy and I have the chance to keep working the way I'm working now, I believe that I can keep competing well for the next couple of years and keep having chances in the big events."

He was in Manhattan on Tuesday taking part in a very different kind of event: a strip-tennis match in a court set up in Bryant Park. See, Nadal is an underwear model for Tommy Hilfiger. A shirtless Nadal also appears in ads for the company's fragrances and "tailored" line.

Hilfiger himself said the tennis star was an appealing endorser because of his sense of style and of course his muscular build. Hilfiger, who serves on the ATP's Business Advisory Board, believes fans will view Nadal as a champion no matter what happens the rest of his career.

But, Hilfiger added, noting how Roger Federer rebounded from a rough patch in recent years, "I can see him coming back. And we're betting on it."

For now, Nadal isn't making any bold pronouncements going into the U.S. Open.

"I will be arrogant if I say I feel ready for the title now after not having a great season," he said. "I don't want to say that. I say I am working hard every day. I know I am playing better and I am feeling better mentally than a few months ago.

"Then (I) need results. I feel closer than ever during the season to be where I want to be. So let's be patient. Let's keep working with that goal and with that intensity, and I hope that helps and works in a not very long period of time."

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