Rafael Nadal comes in a blaze of orange or green, the biceps bulging out, the fist pumping, bandana firmly in place to curb the unruly locks.
The man hardly lives up to the super-energetic legend as he treads casually from the locker room to the centre court at the Nungambakkam stadium. The all-familiar white pirate pants are replaced with regular blue shorts and the shirt is a subdued white. He wears a cap without the scissor kicks, the fist pumps and there's shouts of Vamos. This is hardly the Rafael Nadal we know. The intimidating tennis player is hidden behind the reluctant 20-year-old.
One thing remains constant: his tennis. Even though a pale version of his fierce self on court, Nadal impresses his dedication. Since coming to Chennai on Friday night he has had two practice sessions a day. More important than the joy of playing is his hunger to win.
Nadal, the second-best player in the world, whose mind is never touched by defeat, is unsure of his new audience in a fairly unknown place.
"Hello everyone," he starts shyly at the press conference. He's guarded, but assured of his answers. There is the omnipresent reference to Roger Federer. "He's the best," says Nadal, before adding that the Swiss is difficult to beat and he is always looking at ways to improve and match up to the master.
Federer and Nadal have had epic exchanges in the last two years, their rivalry scaling to one of the best in recent times. While the Spaniard has had the better of the exchanges, scything through Federer's poetic tennis, the latter emerged a bigger champion with his all-court game and an aura of invincibility.
"I am trying to improve my game on hard-court," says Nadal, who didn't impress much in the hard-court season later in 2006.
"I didn't have a bad hard-court season (in 2006). I made it to the quarter-finals in Cincinnati and the quarter-finals in US Open; I had big chances there. It's not that I lost because I did not play well."
Asked about his surprise appearance in the final at Wimbledon, Nadal shrugs it off as if it was never a surprise for him. He was not the best on grass, but was willing to be so, an attitude that has long been lacking in clay-court specialists, who come to life only two months every season before going back into hibernation.
"Whenever I am playing I am thinking of fighting," simplifies Nadal, for people left to wonder of his mental prowess. The relentless pursuit, added with his endless energy, has had most of his opponents crack.
"For me there are no holidays. Season or off-season, I always have to train, have to practice," he elaborates.
Though he is a more physical player, he says that burn-out is the last thing on his mind.
"In professional tennis, everybody hits the ball hard. I am not more scared of injury than anyone else," he simply states.
Having missed the Australian Open last year, Nadal is all keyed up to impress in Melbourne, and the Chennai Open is a good start to the year.
"I like this tournament. I had come here three years ago, I like the weather and the place is in the middle of the travel to Australia."
The focus for him this year is making it to the Masters Cup. More high intensity tennis from the Mallorcan and his sought-after battles with Federer could mark 2007 too.