Nadal raring to go in Melbourne

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hopes to put a disjointed 2021 behind him at the Australian Open later this month.

Rafael Nadal Melbourne 2020©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Not many people celebrate being back at work following the festive season, but Rafael Nadal is relishing his return.

The Spaniard is over in Melbourne gearing up for the Australian Open, which begins on January 17th Down Under. 

It’s a welcome sight to see the 13-time Roland-Garros champion arching his racket from side to side again. Nadal was last seen in competitive action at the Washington Open in August due to a left foot injury.

Now, back to fitness and having been put through his paces on the practice courts by “old friend” Andy Murray, the 35-year-old has sprung into action.

There were encouraging signs during a doubles win alongside countryman Jaume Munar at the Melbourne Summer Set (on the same site as the Australian Open), before the world No.6 won his first singles match in five months.

Nadal is up and running for the season courtesy of a 6-2, 7-5 scoreline facing Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis on Thursday. 

“Super happy to be back in competition. It’s difficult to imagine a better place than here, the beginning of the season in Australia,” said the Spaniard. 

“It’s only the first match after a while. Honestly, I have been going through some difficult, challenging moments the past year-and-a-half, but in general terms I am super happy to be back in competition.”

Dressed all in black Nadal looked the business and was lassoing his trademark forehand to ping winners from every angle. The world No.6 appeared sharp and will be seeking further match time finessing in his semi-final facing youngster Emil Ruusuvuori.

The 2009 Australian Open champion is locked level on 20 Grand Slams alongside ‘Big Three’ rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. The Swiss remains on the sidelines, whilst there remains uncertainty over world No.1 Djokovic’s involvement. 

Nadal could break clear in the men’s all-time major standings, however, his attention has been elsewhere, having tested positive for Covid 19 just prior to Christmas. 

“I had to be on the bed for a couple of days without having the chance to move much because I was very sick with fever, and one of the toughest symptoms that I had in my life in terms of flu,” said Nadal.

“Then I decided when my PCR was negative, I decided to come here as soon as possible because that's in my opinion the better way mentally and physically to try to recover and to be ready and to adapt myself to the conditions here in Australia.”

Preparation has been far from ideal. As ever, Nadal will take it all in his stride, blocking out the hype and expectations, to re-work his game to run the Grand Slam gauntlet once again. 

As you can imagine, it's not possible to be totally confident and comfortable after an injury of probably around six months. It’s about you need to getting back the confidence on a tennis perspective and on a body perspective day by day,” explained Nadal, who has reached four Australian Open finals since his sole 2009 triumph.

“That's the thing; I am working hard to recover all these positive feelings with my physical performance, with my tennis performance, trying to save my body as much as possible.”

Even if the performances aren’t vintage Rafa, you can be assured they’ll be brimming with his archetypal fight and persistence. Over to Nadal to lay down an early marker in Melbourne.