Rafael Nadal comes into AO2018 after a compromised preparation Rafael Nadal comes into AO2018 after a compromised preparation

Rafa ready to ‘start from zero’

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Having been unable to contest an official lead-up fixture for the first time in his 13 Australian Open campaigns, Rafael Nadal had to take matters into his own hands. 

The world No.1 took a longer-than-expected break at the end of 2017 to rest and recover from his latest knee troubles after withdrawing from the ATP Finals in November. By skipping both the annual Abu Dhabi exhibition and subsequent Brisbane International, Nadal’s January activity had been limited to an exhibition match at Kooyong on Tuesday.

Seeking to become the first man in the Open era to win each Grand Slam title at least twice, the 16-time major winner on Friday enlisted fifth-seeded Dominic Them to try to replicate some of what will await in Monday’s opening round against Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic.

“The club in Kooyong is great, but at the same time the conditions of play are completely different from here,’’ Nadal, 31, said on Saturday. 

“We decided to play another match. Talking with the Australian Open, they give us the chance to play like an open practice, but closer to the match for the crowd.

“I have a good relationship with Dominic. I spoke to him about that. He was very happy to make that happen, too. We did it. It was a good practice, good feelings for both of us I think. The job was done the right way.’’
 

Nadal’s last match at Melbourne Park was the epic 2017 five-set final loss to his great rival Roger Federer that nevertheless counted as one of just two defeats at major level in a resurgent season for the reigning French and US Open champion.

Despite the altered preparation, and an altered coaching set-up from which his uncle Toni has now formally departed, Nadal has been satisfied with his lead-up, truncated as it was by slightly extended time off at either end.

I started little bit later than what I expected… (because) we needed some more practice, start slow, to be fresher.
Rafael Nadal

“Had been a long season. Good one, but at the same time long, without playing a lot of tournaments but playing a lot of matches,’’ Nadal said. “Yeah, I had to stop for a while. I started little bit later than what I expected… (because) we needed some more practice, start slow, to be fresher, little bit more fresh mentally and physically, and do things the right way. That's what we tried to do. Here we are to try my best, try to see if I am able to start.’’

Better, certainly, to begin as the No.1 than the No.20, he smiled, having not been in such rarefied January rankings air since 2014. But, still, “everyone starts from zero. I start from zero again. Start as new season, an exciting one. I hope to be healthy and competitive, and most important thing, I hope to enjoy tennis one more year.’’

With Carlos Moya at the head of his coaching team, Uncle Toni nevertheless attended some of Nadal’s pre-season practices in Mallorca, and the pair remains on close, strong terms.

“He love me. I love him. Is not about, you know, professional relationship. Is a familial relationship,’’ Rafa said. “In terms of professional things, I spoke to him few days ago, speaking about how the life going, how the tennis going.

“If I have something to ask, I ask to him. If he have something to tell me, he call me and tell me. No, no, is not difficult situation. Is very easy situation.’’

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While rivals Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are among the leading lights to have been sidelined for lengthy recent periods with injury, Nadal’s history of career-threatening ailments date back to a foot problem in 2005. Yet he reiterated his call for tennis' governing bodies to analyse the cause of the growing physical toll.

“I don't need to be 31 to say, ‘OK, I am lucky to be here’. No. With 22, I felt the same. I'm still feeling the same. In general terms, I feel lucky to have the chance to enjoy all the experiences that the tennis give us. I hope to keep enjoying that moments for a while. That's it.

“I wish Stan and Andy a good recover, all the best for the future, healthy. Another thing is that there is too many injuries on the tour. I am not the one to say, but somebody have to look about what's going on. 

“I repeat: I am not the one to take decisions. But when something is happening too often (there is) something we are not doing well.’’

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