Rafa Nadal's startling 15-year first that could hint at retirement

The 22-time grand slam champion has stunned fans ahead of the Australian Open.

Rafa Nadal (pictured left) watching the United Cup and (pictured right) Nadal during Australian Open preparations.
Rafa Nadal (pictured) has opted to play in the Dubai Tennis Championship in February for the first time since 2008, instead of the Mexican Open in Acapulco. (Getty images)

Rafa Nadal has surprised tennis fans and announced he will take part in the Dubai Tennis Championship for the first time in 15 years, which will see him skip his title defence in Acapulco. Nadal is preparing for his Australian Open title defence in Melbourne having suffered a tough start to the year in Sydney having lost both his United Cup matches for Spain.

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The 36-year-old will know that Novak Djokovic will be eager to reclaim the title having missed the grand slam - which he has won nine times - last year due to the vaccination drama. However, only days out from the first grand slam of the year, Nadal was announced to be taking part in the Dubai Tennis Championship next month.

This is an unusual move for Nadal who hasn't competed at the ATP 500 tournament since 2008. This means Nadal won't defend his Mexican Open title in Acapulco. Nadal has won the Mexican Open on four occasions and is a fan favourite.

If Nadal was to reach the final in Dubai he would be playing on March 4. Indian Wells - often regarded as the fifth grand slam - starts on March 6. This would leave Nadal little time to recover and compete in the US event. It could also signal a rest period for the Spaniard before heading into the clay season.

Nadal's participation in Dubai has sparked question marks over his future in the game. While many claimed the appearance fee was a huge part of the decision, others said Nadal would skip the American hard court tournaments after Dubai and focus for the campaign on his favourite surface.

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Despite fans continually on edge over Nadal's retirement from the sport, the Spaniard recently shut down any immediate concerns.

Xisca Nadal and Rafa Jr have accompanied Nadal to Australia ahead of the Australian Open. However, things didn't exactly go to plan for the 22-time grand slam champion after he suffered back-to-back losses to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur - in the United Cup in Sydney.

Rafael Nadal (pictured) trains ahead of the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal (pictured) is getting set to defend his title at the Australian Open. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

It marked the first time in his career that he's started a season 0-2. But when asked about his future in tennis, with speculation rife that he will announce his retirement at some stage this year, Nadal shrugged it off. "For me, I lost my match, that's it," he said. "Every time that I am coming to a press conference it seems that I have to retire.

"So, you are very, very interested in my retirement. I mean, that's, for the moment, not the case. When this day arrives, I'm gonna let you know guys. Don't keep going with the retirement (questions) because I'm going to keep playing tennis."

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