Rafael Nadal plays down Australian Open hopes but vows to enjoy comeback | tennis

Rafael Nadal has sought to play down his “impossible” Australian Open title hopes, the first stop on his farewell 2024 world tour. But for the 37-year-old Spaniard, who will return to the Brisbane International after almost a year out due to injury, Australia is a place where the impossible happens.

The 22-time major champion’s last match was a second-round loss at the Australian Open in January this year, and Nadal ultimately opted for surgery in June to repair his problematic hip.

Thousands of fans lined up to catch a glimpse of the tennis great at a gathering in downtown Brisbane on Friday, where a joyous Nadal sought to dilute the prospect of victory in the upcoming tournament, the main draw of which begins on Sunday, third Australian Open title next month.

“It’s impossible to think about winning tournaments today,” he said when he learned that Australian world number 40 Alexei Popyrin had tipped him to win in Brisbane. “What is really possible is to enjoy the comeback. I don’t expect much; a year without being on the pitch.”

But when asked, he was quick to recall his triumphs at Melbourne Park, two surprise titles won in 2009 and 2022, which stand in sharp contrast to the low expectations of the current world number 672.

In 2009, he beat compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the semi-final over five hours before going the distance and defeating Roger Federer in a four-hour epic two days later. Thirteen years later, after a six-month break due to a foot injury, he came back from two sets down in the final against Daniil Medvedev.

“I still don’t know,” he said of the way he won the title in 2009. “Before the game it was impossible to imagine that I would win this game.”

Rafael Nadal attends a ‘Meet the Fans’ event at Queen Street Mall ahead of the 2024 Brisbane International. Photo: Darren England/EPA

Nadal, who missed last year’s French Open after winning it for an incredible 14th time a year earlier, said 2024 will be “probably my last year on the professional tour.” But he said he was encouraged by his fitness and admitted he was feeling “much better than I expected a month ago”.

“I can’t set any particularly long-term goals because I can’t imagine playing for a very long period of time,” he said. “I don’t know what will happen next. I’m not a player who tries to predict what can happen in the short term, and in the medium term it’s even more difficult. I have to accept the adversity and accept that it won’t be perfect. I just have to come every day with the right attitude.”

World number 8 Holger Rune is the top-ranked man in the Brisbane field, while Andy Murray, Ben Shelton, Grigor Dimitrov and Sebastian Korda lead the internationals. Popyrin and Max Purcell were automatic entries, while fellow Australians Rinky Hijikata and Aleksandar Vukic received wildcards into the main draw.

Thanasi Kokkinakis and Chris O’Connell are both preparing for qualifying, which begins on Saturday, alongside US Open champion Dominic Thiem and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini.

Naomi Osaka will return to the women’s draw following the birth of her child, which will miss world number 8 Karolína Muchová due to a wrist injury. The French Open finalist has also withdrawn from the Australian Open.

Skip the newsletter advertising

The Czech star player, who was seeded third in Brisbane, revealed she was still dealing with pain in her right wrist. She first suffered the injury while playing in the US Open semifinals in September. The 27-year-old has not played since his defeat in New York against the future American Coco Gauff.

“This is not my favorite activity, especially at the start of a new season, but unfortunately the pain in one wrist returned in the middle of my tennis preparation,” Muchová posted on social media. She did not provide a timetable for her recovery.

Muchová is the first high-profile absentee from the year’s opening Grand Slam, which will see former world No. 1 Osaka return to tennis. The new mother, who gave birth to a daughter in July, missed this year’s tournament and will be looking to claim a third title at Melbourne Park.

Naomi Osaka visits the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary before the Brisbane International
Naomi Osaka visits the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary before the Brisbane International. Photo: Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images

Osaka, a four-time Grand Slam champion, has been training daily since arriving in Australia. The Japanese has not played a tournament on the WTA Tour since the Pan Pacific in Tokyo in September 2022, when she withdrew from her second-round match.

Osaka said that motherhood made her realize her physical capabilities. “Being a mother has changed my life a lot, changed the way I look at a lot of things and giving birth was certainly one of the most painful things I’ve ever been through,” Osaka told reporters in Brisbane on Friday. “It made me feel like I could physically endure a lot more.”

She said being a role model for her baby Shai spurred her comeback. “I just want to show Shai that she is capable of anything. That’s one of my main goals and the main reason I want to be back out there,” Osaka said.

Have any Question or Comment?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *