A victory in his final match of the year leaves Rafael Nadal feeling somewhat more buoyed ahead of his 2023 campaign.
The Spaniard defeated Casper Ruud 7-5 7-5 on Thursday at the ATP Finals in Turin, snapping a four-match losing streak.
Two earlier losses in the group stages meant Nadal could not progress to the semifinals of the season-ending event for the world’s top eight players.
But despite this match-up with Ruud being something of a ‘dead rubber’, the result sends Nadal into the off-season on a more positive note.
“Two Grand Slams, finishing the year in the highest spot on the ranking (in 18 months), so can’t complain at all,” said world No.2 Nadal, when reflecting on a season that began extremely brightly yet became increasingly marred by injuries.
“At my age, to be able to achieve and be competitive means a lot to me.
“So 2023, just let’s try to have the right preparation, work the proper way, and then start the season with the right energy, no? The right energy, the right attitude, and try to reach the level that I need to be competitive from the beginning.
“So let’s try it. I am excited about it.”
Nadal is scheduled to begin 2023 at the inaugural edition of the United Cup, playing for Spain in Sydney alongside women’s star Paula Badosa.
He will then head to Melbourne Park as the defending champion at the Australian Open.
After beating Daniil Medvedev in a compelling AO 2022 final, Nadal later won a 14th title at Roland Garros, then charged to the semifinals of Wimbledon. Observers contemplated the possibility he might complete an extraordinary calendar-year Grand Slam.
He won 35 of his first 38 matches of the season, but physical cracks were already beginning to show.
These included a cracked rib during the Indian Wells final – he missed the next six weeks of competition – and a foot nerve procedure, ruling him out of grass-court lead-ups to Wimbledon.
An abdominal injury forced him to withdraw from his Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios and continued to hamper him throughout the North American hard-court swing.
Prior to his win over Ruud at the ATP Finals, his previous victory came against Richard Gasquet in the third round of the US Open.
He fell to Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round, then lost to Tommy Paul in his opening match at the Paris Masters. Next came back-to-back losses to Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime in group matches in Turin.
It was the first time Nadal had lost four consecutive professional matches since 2009.
“Have been six tough months in all ways… (to) be here (at the ATP Finals) is positive,” Nadal said after losing to Auger-Aliassime.
“(To) experience what’s going on … the last couple of weeks on the court is not a big surprise. That’s not mean that I am not sad about the results, but something that can happen, no?
“The only thing that I can do is just keep working, keep doing the things that I need to do to give myself a chance to start with real chances in 2023.
“Couple of positive things: I was able to play two tournaments in the last three weeks, something that I was not able to do it for a while.
“I don’t think I forget how to play tennis and how to be strong enough mentally; I just need to recover all these positive feelings and all this confidence and all this strong mentality that I need to be at the level that I want to be.
“I don’t know if I’m going to reach that level again, but what I don’t have any doubt (about is) that I’m going to die for it.”
Nadal will begin competing in 2023 five months out from his 37th birthday.