Rafa Nadal has sent a warning to his rivals that he is ready to defend his Australian Open title, despite a lacklustre start to his 2023 season. The 36-year-old Spaniard started a season 0-2 for the first time in his illustrious career having lost both his ties at the United Cup in Sydney earlier this month.
BREAKTHROUGH: Top players join Djokovic in breakaway PTPA movement
'HUGE SHAME': Tennis fans react to surprising John McEnroe snub
Plenty of the build-up around this year's Australian Open is the return of nine-time champion Novak Djokovic after his deportation ahead of last year's tournament. However, while Djokovic enters Melbourne Park as heavy favourite to extend his record of Australian Open titles, Nadal has warned rivals that he isn't going down without a fight.
The 22-time grand slam champ has reassured fans that he is in good shape, despite his reoccurring foot, rib and abdomen issues that have restricted him to just four events after Wimbledon in July.
"Well, it's true that the last couple of months I was not able to play much tennis and at the beginning of the season I lost two matches in Sydney, but honestly I am not unhappy with the preparation," Nadal told reporters in Melbourne.
"I need to win matches for sure. But the preparation is going quite well, practising a lot and I think I am in good shape. Then you need to demonstrate that in the matches, in the official tournaments. But I'm confident that if I am able to have this last week of positive practices, why not?"
Nadal is looking to extend his lead as the man with the most grand slam titles as he sits one ahead of Djokovic. The Serbian claimed his 21st title at Wimbledon, while Federer retired.
The Spaniard has picked up his training ahead of his first match in Melbourne after a spirited session with five-time finalist and friend Andy Murray on Tuesday.
Rafa Nadal to play Dubai tournament in February
While Nadal is fully focuses on the Australian Open, it was announced the Spaniard was going to take 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.
While speculation continues to swirl around Nadal's impending retirement, Nadal reassured fans in Sydney he is fully focused on the task at hand.
"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.