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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Updated: March 25, 10:59 AM ET
Rafa, Djoker working overtime

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Rafael Nadal, whose trajectory seemed unstoppable a year ago, is in the midst of what you might call a rough patch.

He admitted he succumbed to nervousness last week in a third-set tiebreaker in the Indian Wells semifinals, where he lost to eventual champion Ivan Ljubicic.

"I say that I had to play more aggressive in that match, because for the rest of the matches I was playing very, very good tennis,'' Nadal told reporters Wednesday in a pre-Sony Ericsson Open news conference. "I was playing at my best level, so it was bad [to] lose for me there because I was playing really well.''

Nadal's vulnerable knees require constant vigilance. He led Spain to a second straight Davis Cup title in December, but he hasn't won a regular ATP event since Rome in May, and this week he slipped down to No. 4 for the third time in the past few weeks -- his lowest perch since the first half of 2005. To top it all off, he has an achy wisdom tooth.

"I have to take out all, but not now,'' Nadal said, gingerly touching his cheek.

Yet judging by his schedule, he isn't running scared. He's playing doubles as well as singles here in Key Biscayne, partly because he finds it more entertaining than training. His schedule will be business as usual after the Sony Ericsson Open -- a jam-packed clay-court itinerary that goes through the familiar waystations of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, Madrid and Roland Garros. His loaded appointment book resembles that of Novak Djokovic, who now occupies the No. 2 slot he held for so long.

Djokovic lost in the round of 16 at Indian Wells, and admitted he was fatigued after winning the Dubai title and expending a huge amount of energy in Davis Cup play against the United States earlier this month. He won both his singles matches to help Serbia advance beyond the initial round for the first time, but John Isner in particular wore him out in the process.

The little break enabled Djokovic to go sightseeing in Los Angeles, something he'd never done before. "What the tourists usually see in L.A., Universal Studios, beach, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, these kinds of things,'' he said. "Just relaxing. We don't have that much time to explore the sights of the different cities, because everything we see -- well, mostly what we see -- is tennis club and hotels.''

Those boundaries will pretty much circumscribe Djokovic's world for the next couple of months. The first week of May, when many top players will take a breather, is the week that the second edition of his family-owned tournament will take place in Belgrade.

Djokovic acknowledged last year that his duties as host and event favorite in Belgrade were stressful, albeit in a good way. He is in the process of beating the bushes for players now, and was pleasantly surprised to see that Isner and fellow American Sam Querrey had signed up.

Like Nadal, Djokovic said he regards his full dance card as a good problem to have. "If I'm as successful as last year on clay, after [the] French Open, I'll be very, very happy,'' he said.

Nadal didn't tour Hollywood, but he waded into show biz directly last month by appearing in a steamy promotional video for singer Shakira's cut "Gypsy'' -- his first effort of that kind since he hilariously sang "La Bamba" for an in-house French Open production.

Djokovic, who will begin his Miami campaign against Belgium's Olivier Rochus, has a long history as an entertainer but ruled out anything musical. He'd rather focus on making opponents dance to his tune.