Rafael Nadal has confirmed he will be back on the ATP Tour at the start of 2015 and expects to be competitive heading into the first Grand Slam of the year at the Australian Open. Nadal missed almost the entire second half of the year after a wrist injury forced him into a 12-week layoff following Wimbledon, before his comeback was cut short by appendicitis, ruling him out of the ATP World Tour Finals earlier this month. Nadal has also been battling a back problem, for which he has received stem-cell treatment. However, the Spaniard expects to be raring to go when his season is scheduled to begin in Doha on Jan. 5.
“It will be 10 or 12 days before I can practice again, so [I] will have all of December to try to put my body and my tennis at the right level to be competitive in January,” he said, according to the Press Association. “I am going to work for it, that is my goal. I hope to be healthy enough to work as much as I need, and as I want, if that happens I really feel confident I can come back strong.”
Nadal won in Doha last year before losing in the final of the Australian Open to Stan Wawrinka when he was hampered by his back injury. Nadal later described the defeat as one of the toughest moments of his career, and he hopes this extended layoff enables him to put the problem behind him as he seeks his 15th Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
“During this year I had some periods when I had some problems in my back,” he added. “During these months, I did not have the chance to compete with all of the things which happened to me. I have time enough to fix my back 100 percent again.
“I try to fix my level of tennis, all of the things you need to come back strong. I will have a few days at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, which will help me arrive at the first official competition of the year in Doha with normal conditions, being competitive. If that happens, then you can start increasing the level in every single match.”
While Nadal won his ninth French Open in May, his injury problems mean he has fallen to No. 3 in the world rankings behind Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Even were his comeback to remain on schedule, the 28-year-old faces a mammoth task to lift the trophy Down Under. Nadal won 44 of his first 46 matches after returning to the tour last year following a seven-month layoff, but that was when beginning the comeback on his favored clay surface. The hard courts of Australia provide more of a challenge, especially given that he will have to get past Djokovic on the Serbian’s favored surface.
Nadal’s record at Melbourne Park is good, having won in 2009 and finished as runner-up on his last two visits, in 2014 and 2012. But Djokovic has claimed the trophy four times and beaten Nadal in their last three meetings on a hard court. And with Nadal and Federer, who was forced to pull out of the final of the ATP World Tour Finals, ending 2014 with injury concerns, the ever-durable Djokovic will be strong favorite to become champion in Australia for an Open-era record fifth time.