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.
'RIDICULOUS': Australia Open lashes out over 'bizarre' calls
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.
Good and bad news. When I see a player playing a tournament he normally doesn't play its because hes playing his last year and wants to play those tournaments and visit those cities.
— MO (@kmar_NY) January 9, 2023
#Nadal will play in Dubai after 15 years! It will be an interesting change in schedule at #DDFTennis for Rafa after playing in Acapulco the last few years. Will he then play Indian Wells & Miami in 2023? https://t.co/CYaXfbfoHi
— SportsTalk (@rajeshworld) January 9, 2023
It's alright. Expect the unexpected in this new year 2023
— Vinay Dudhane (@vinaydudhane) January 10, 2023
No sunshine doubles in his plans??? 🤔🤔
— S.S (@write2swagatam) January 9, 2023
I was hoping to see him play in Mexico :(
— Gogo (@gogo_dg30) January 9, 2023
so he’s probably not going to indian wells
— . (@bareeeeeeee99) January 9, 2023
Rafa Nadal suffers poor start to 2023 season
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.
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."
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.