Tennis: 'Competitive animal' Nadal back for one last hurrah

AFP , Thursday 28 Dec 2023

More than two decades after bursting on the scene, the sun is setting on Rafael Nadal's storied career with the Spanish gladiator hoping his creaking body can hold up long enough to see out the season.

Nadal
Rafael Nadal of Spain plays during a training session ahead of the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023. AP

 

The 37-year-old returns to the courts in Brisbane this week, almost a year since he last played professionally before an injury curse that has long plagued him returned with a vengeance.

It has been a recurring theme of a record-breaking career which has brought 22 Grand Slam titles and global respect, a painful by-product of his all-action, brutal-hitting style that has led to struggles with serious knee, wrist and foot problems.

His most recent setback, at the 2023 Australian Open, resulted in two rounds of hip surgery and fears that he would never grace the courts again.

But Nadal didn't want it to end like that, and he has battled back for what he admits is likely his last season, to say goodbye to the fans, "enjoy myself again", but also be competitive.

"I don't know at what level (I can play at), I don't know what to expect, I have no idea, but I don't care right now," Nadal said this month, looking ahead to 2024.

"I'm just happy to be back and with great excitement to make the effort that is necessary to have fun, and I believe that I will be competitive."

His coach Carlos Moya gave an insight into how hard it had been to get to this point, admitting there were times when he thought Nadal's career was over.

The 37-year-old returns to the courts in Brisbane this week, almost a year since he last played professionally before an injury curse that has long plagued him returned with a vengeance.

It has been a recurring theme of a record-breaking career which has brought 22 Grand Slam titles and global respect, a painful by-product of his all-action, brutal-hitting style that has led to struggles with serious knee, wrist and foot problems.

His most recent setback, at the 2023 Australian Open, resulted in two rounds of hip surgery and fears that he would never grace the courts again.

But Nadal didn't want it to end like that, and he has battled back for what he admits is likely his last season, to say goodbye to the fans, "enjoy myself again", but also be competitive.

"I don't know at what level (I can play at), I don't know what to expect, I have no idea, but I don't care right now," Nadal said this month, looking ahead to 2024.

"I'm just happy to be back and with great excitement to make the effort that is necessary to have fun, and I believe that I will be competitive."

His coach Carlos Moya gave an insight into how hard it had been to get to this point, admitting there were times when he thought Nadal's career was over.

"As much as we try to get that into his head and make him see it, when he steps on a tennis court, he's a competitive animal," he said.

"A large part of my work and that of the team has been to stop him. Stop him in terms of the load of training, stop him in terms of hours of work, intensity."

In preparation for the Brisbane International and the Australian Open, Nadal spent time at his academy in Kuwait in search of temperatures and conditions similar to those he will encounter in Australia.

He trained with fast-rising French teen Arthur Fils and Moya said it went "much better than he could have hoped".

"Rafa went there thinking that he wouldn't be competitive, that he wouldn't be good enough, and he's left convinced that it might be possible."

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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