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By Gregory Blachier
MONTE CARLO (Reuters) - Relaxed and rested after a break following his successful return to the ATP Tour, Rafa Nadal said he no longer felt burdened by expectation and pressure heading into the European claycourt season.
The Spaniard put the problems with his injured left knee, which sidelined him for seven months, behind him by winning three of four events on his return to the circuit, including the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells last month.
World number five Nadal seeks a ninth consecutive Monte Carlo Masters title this week and has arrived in good shape for his European campaign leading up to next month's French Open.
"I played four fantastic weeks in Latin America and Indian Wells. After seven months, playing that much is never easy so I tried to recover well and do the right things to be here," Nadal told reporters on Tuesday.
"I don't feel the pressure that I've felt in the past."
The 11-times grand slam singles champion spent his month off since his Indian Wells triumph by strengthening his left leg on the advice of his doctors.
He would, however, much rather talk about tennis than his knee.
"There has been a lot of talk about the knee for the last year. It's not good to talk about it anymore for me because I'm here, I'm competing so I prefer to be focused on the tennis," he said.
Despite his eight Monte Carlo titles, and with world number one Novak Djokovic doubtful with an ankle sprain and Swiss Roger Federer having opted against participating in the event, Nadal does not believe a ninth crown is inevitable.
"I don't feel like I am the biggest favourite to win this tournament this year. I think I'm a candidate," Nadal said.
"It's probably not easy to understand after eight years, but I don't have to lose the perspective; it's not possible to win every year, and someday that's going to stop.
"I will try my best not to make that happen easily but that's the sport, nothing lasts forever and you have to accept that."
Asked who might take his title from him, the Mallorcan replied: "You don't need to know who are my favourites because you'd say the same as me. If you follow tennis, everybody knows who are the favourites."
(Reporting by Gregory Blachier, editing by Justin Palmer)