Australian Open boss Craig Tiley has been called out by tennis fans after announcing on Wednesday that 22-time grand slam winner Rafa Nadal would be returning to Melbourne Park in 2024. The Spaniard revealed that next year would be his last in professional tennis and he hasn't played on the ATP Tour since the 2023 Australian Open, meaning it will be a full 12 months out when he returns to Australian shores.
Speaking on Channel 9's 'Today' show on Wednesday though, Tiley confirmed that the 37-year-old Spaniard would be among the biggest stars slated to appear in the first grand slam tournament of the new year. "The return of some of the greats, and those champions who have been off for a couple of years," Tiley said on Channel 9's 'Today' show. "We can reveal exclusively here that Rafa will be back.
"He's been off for most of the year, and in talking to him over the last few days he confirmed he will be back, which we're really excited about. That's awesome."
Nadal suffered a hip injury at this year's Australian Open, which has kept him out of action ever since. The 22-time grand slam champion previously revealed that 2024 will be his last year in professional tennis, but there were concerns that he wouldn't be ready in time for the first grand slam of the year.
Understandably, Tiley's announcement was greeted with tremendous excitement across the tennis world, with fans eager to see one of the sport's most popular champions return to the court in what will be his swansong year. However, others weren't quite so convinced by the news and suggested that plenty could happen between now and January to prevent the Spaniard from returning at Melbourne Park.
“It must be that time of year again when the Australian Open tickets are going on sale,” English reporter Stuart Fraser commented about Tiley’s announcement around Nadal. The Australian Open boss also made a similar declaration about Serena Williams appearing in the 2018 tournament before the American withdrew.
“These words on Nadal sound more like optimism than confirmation,” Canadian tennis reporter Stephanie Myles added. The scepticism comes after a series of well documented foot injuries for Nadal, who also had to undergo arthroscopic surgery for his left hip flexor injury.
Rafa Nadal plays down grand slam expectations
Nadal recently moved to play down expectations that he can still win another grand slam. The 37-year-old revealed just how debilitating his current injury issues have been.
“(The pain isn’t gone) but now it is controllable,” he said in a recent interview. “There are times when the foot does not let me live in peace. It is difficult for me to even go down the stairs and that happens sometimes. If it hurts it is difficult to be happy, my character changes when it hurts more than necessary.
“Yes, I would like to play again and be competitive again. But the dream is not to come back and win Roland Garros or win Australia, so that people don’t get confused, right?
“I am very aware that at the time I am in my life, all that is very far away. And I don’t say it’s impossible because in the end I say things - I have said it a thousand times - all things in sport, they change very quickly.”
Tiley also said he's confident Nick Kyrgios will be playing. The Australian has only featured in one match at ATP level this year due to knee and wrist injuries.
He withdrew from the Australian Open on the eve of the tournament, and aborted his plans for a return at Wimbledon. "We know Nick's been in training so we expect to see him back.," Tiley said.
“Nick is also doing his utmost to get back to his best and is plotting his return to the court,” Tiley said. “We know how much competing at the AO means to him and he never fails to bring excitement and passion.
“His amazing brand of tennis and showmanship always adds something very special to the AO.” Among the other big names set to make their return to Melbourne Park are a trio of women's major winners - Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki.
“We are delighted to welcome back these amazing champions, Naomi, Angie and Caroline, who’ve lit up the Australian Open and impressed fans with their athleticism, resilience and their sportsmanship,” Tiley added. “We will welcome them – and their families – back to Melbourne with open arms and can’t wait to see what their next chapter brings."
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