Rafael Nadal insists he has what it takes to put a tumultuous 2022 behind him and successfully defend his Australian Open crown in 2023. The 36-year-old has been training in Spain the last few days after a Latin American exhibition tour alongside Norwegian Casper Ruud.
It was an eventful season for Nadal, who welcomed the birth of his first child with wife Xisca in October but also saw injuries plague him, particularly in the back half of the year. The most dramatic of those injuries forced Nadal to pull out of the Wimbledon semi-final against Nick Kyrgios, due to an abdominal complaint.
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He also withdrew from the Laver Cup after just one doubles match, flying home to Spain to be with his wife, in the days before she gave birth to their baby boy. Nadal teamed up with Roger Federer for the final match of the Swiss legend's storied career, losing to Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock at the team event that Federer helped create.
Nadal's withdrawal from the Laver Cup meant he literally only decided to play so that he could feature in the final match of Federer's career. The Spaniard was in tears for his long-time friend and rival as the Swiss champion bid an emotional farewell to tennis at the London event in September.
The 36-year-old then endured an underwhelming ATP Finals campaign in Turin, after being eliminated from the season-ending event off the back of consecutive defeats in his opening two matches. He did salvage some pride by beating Casper Ruud in the third round robin match, but Nadal's uncharacteristically poor showing sparked concern among his legion of fans.
Nadal also suffered a stress fracture in his rib earlier in 2022 and has been battling a chronic, long-term foot injury that had - at one point - threatened to spell a premature end to his career. While the Spaniard admits he is underdone after landing back home from his recent Latin American exhibition tour, Nadal is confident he can get back where he needs to be ahead of the Australian Open.
"I arrived on the 3rd (of December). I spent almost a week doing nothing, which was the right thing to do," Nadal told Spanish newspaper As on Friday. "I did a bit of physical training, I think I'll need a few days in Australia. I'm aware that I'm a little bit short, but I'm confident that I'll be able to pick up the level I need to be competitive in Australia."
Nadal, who has won a record 22 Grand Slam titles, announced this week that he had added Argentine Gustavo Marcaccio to his coaching staff. It was an unexpected but necessary move after the departure of veteran coach Francis Roig, who had been part of Nadal's team for 18 years.
"I turn to Gustavo because Francis decided to take a different path. I'm not very much in favour of making big changes. Francis made a decision, and above all I love him as a friend, practically family," Nadal said.
Djokovic out to equal Nadal's grand slam record at Aus Open
Nadal will travel to Sydney on Monday to play in the United Cup mixed tournament in preparation for the Australian Open. The biggest threat to his chances of defending the Australian Open title in 2023 will no doubt come from nine-time champion, Novak Djokovic. The Serb - who capped off a rollercoaster 2022 by winning the season-ending ATP Finals title - did not compete at Melbourne Park in 2022 after being sensationally deported over his unvaccinated status.
The 21-time grand slam champion lost his World No.1 ranking after failing to defend his French Open crown but roared back to glory at Wimbledon. He was also barred from competing at the US Open due to America's restrictions at the time on unvaccinated visitors to the country.
A record-matching fifth ATP Finals title took him level with the recently retired Roger Federer and 35-year-old Djokovic says he has no intentions of slowing down in the new year. "I would like to play as long as I possibly can," he stated in Dubai on Friday. "I don't have really any number in my head.
"Things are progressing so far pretty well for me. I can't complain. So as long as I play at this level, as long as I have the fire, I'll keep going."
Djokovic has won the Australian Open more than any other player in history and of his 21 grand slam singles titles, Melbourne Park is the venue where he has tasted the most success. The Seb says he is relishing the chance to return there and potentially claim a 22nd major trophy that would see him equal Nadal's record haul.
"I'm just glad to have a chance to start there," he added. "My record has been pretty decent over the years in Australia. So I look forward to going there.
"I always ask for the best for myself. Over the years, I've been really fortunate to start very strong in Australia and love playing there. After obviously what happened earlier this year, hopefully, I can have a decent reception there, and that can help me play some good tennis."
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