Rafael Nadal’s latest return from injury wasn’t exactly the success he would have hoped, but the 14-time Grand Slam winner remains upbeat as his competitive season on the ATP Tour is set to get underway. In his first match back since appendix surgery brought an end to a 2014 that was also disrupted by wrist and back complaints, Nadal was crushed 6-2, 6-0 by Andy Murray in the semifinals of the exhibition Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi last Friday. Having bounced back to beat Stan Wawrinka to claim third spot in the event, he is now preparing for his first official tournament, the Qatar Open this week.
“New season start, so for me it's a new challenge and new motivation.” Nadal said on Sunday, according to the ATP World Tour’s website.
With the year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open, beginning in just two weeks’ time, there is little opportunity for Nadal to get up to speed after a season which saw him win just four matches after crashing out of the fourth round of Wimbledon at the end of June. Indeed, given his struggling fitness in the second half of the year, Nadal said this week that he has effectively not played since the Grand Slam at the All England Club.
“Basel and Beijing was not playing for me,” he said of the tournaments he played on his return from injury in the fall, reports Spanish publication AS. “I count not playing from Wimbledon.”
Nadal won the title in Doha last year, but, while not ruling out a repeat in 2015, he has cautioned that this year’s tournament is more about simply getting matches under his belt.
“At the end, as many matches as I can play, [the] more help [it] will be for me,” he said. “I need time [to] improve, but that's normal. You never know in the world of sport,” he added on the chances of retaining his crown, per the ATP Tour’s website. “If I am able to play [a] couple of matches and to win a couple of matches, then probably the feeling will be different for me, and I will feel that I will be more ready for everything. But this is [a] tough tournament. A lot of good players [are] in the draw.”
Indeed, Nadal will be up against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Qatar, while regular top-10 members Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer are also in the draw. In the first round, Nadal will take on German qualifier Michael Berrer, with Croatian Ivan Dodig awaiting the winner. In a further illustration of his desire to maximize his time on court, the nine-time French Open champion has already been in action in the doubles event, having teamed up with Argentinian Juan Monaco to beat Simone Bolleli and Leonardo Mayer.
“My goal is try to be competitive in every tournament that I’m going to play,” he said. “It's normal that I'm going to need some time. But I'm happy; I'm practicing well and working very hard. I'm doing the right things with the right attitude. I hope to be ready to compete here, and then if I am able to spend some time on court, every moment on court will help me [and] will be positive for my future. [I’m] going to try to play the best tournament possible.”