Nadal out to emulate Federer’s Australian Open feat

Published by AAP

Rafael Nadal fires a forehand during the Fast4 exhibition in Sydney.
Champion at Melbourne Park in 2009, Nadal has lost three Australian Open finals since – to Novak Djokovic in their record-setting epic in 2012, to Stan Wawrinka in 2014 when hindered by a back injury and two years ago to Federer.

Rafael Nadal believes he can pull off a Roger Federer-like tennis miracle and win the Australian Open two months after going under the knife.

After withdrawing from last week’s Brisbane International with a thigh strain and not playing a sanctioned event in four months, Nadal survived two matches of Fast4 action against Nick Kyrgios on Monday night before happily declaring: “I didn’t feel the pain at all”.

The 17-times grand slam champion lost 4-0 3-4 5-3 in a singles work-out lasting barely an hour before teaming with Milos Raonic to edge Kyrgios and John Millman 4-1 1-4 5-4 in a doubles match-up that was only half hit-and-giggles for Nadal after a wretched run on the sidelines.

The injury-plagued Spanish superstar retired midway through his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro with a knee issue, called an end to his 2018 season later in September and finally relinquished his world No.1 ranking after undergoing ankle surgery in November.

He succumbed to Kevin Anderson in a post-Christmas exhibition event in Abu Dhabi before pulling out of his third-place play-off match for precautionary reasons.

GALLERY: Practice makes perfect for stars at Melbourne Park

Nadal then disappointed fans in Brisbane with his late scratching, but promised to be “100 per cent” for the season’s first grand slam starting next Monday.

Asked if being fully fit and a genuine title contender in Melbourne was realistic, a defiant Nadal said: “Why not?”

“You can’t predict that. Of course it would be better if I had the chance to play a full tournament in Abu Dhabi and a full tournament in Brisbane, but the big importance is I am feeling good with the ball,” he told AAP.

“The only thing is that I didn’t play matches since a long time ago.

“But I have one week and I am healthy now and I can practice now in Melbourne for one full week and the good thing is I am going to have the chance to play matches.

“And even if it is on the practice court, it’s going to be a big help for me.”

At 32, Nadal knows his chance to join Rod Laver and Roy Emerson as only the third man in history to win all four grand slam titles at least twice each is running out.

Champion at Melbourne Park in 2009, Nadal has lost three other finals since – to Novak Djokovic in their record-setting five-hour, 54-minute epic in 2012, to Stan Wawrinka in 2014 when hindered by a back injury and two years ago to Federer.

In denying Nadal in a five-set thriller in 2017, Federer broke a four-and-a-half-year grand slam title drought to land major No.18 in his first official tournament back after six months out recovering from knee surgery.

Nadal now truly believes he can add an 18th major to his CV in his first event in four months.

“At the end of this match (with Kyrgios), I didn’t feel the pain at all,” he said.

“Of course always at the beginning you are always a little bit scared because it was the first time I’ve been on court playing points after that.

“But (it was) a very positive feeling.”

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