Tennis

Nadal, Wawrinka looking forward to Australian Open

Spaniard says injured knee is holding up fine after losing exhibition match

Former champions Stan Wawrinka and Rafael Nadal gave Australian Open organisers a massive boost on Tuesday (Jan 9) when they both said they were looking forward to next week’s season-opening Grand Slam after battling long-term injuries.

The Australian Open has been hit hard by absences with Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Kei Nishikori among those to have withdrawn, while Nadal and Novak Djokovic have also been struggling with injuries.

Wawrinka has been battling a knee injury and has not played since he was knocked out in the first round of Wimbledon last year, and the Swiss was one of the major question marks heading into the Jan 15-28 Australian Open.

“I’m really, really happy to be back on the Tour and seeing the sun,” Wawrinka said after an event with the tournament’s ball kids at Melbourne Park.

“For me, the first thing is to play a match, to play a tennis match again. It’s been many months out of the tour. It’s not always the best when you are an athlete so I’m looking forward to it, enjoying the crowd.

“Still a lot to do but I’m feeling really positive so looking forward to starting."

It was naturally a welcome news to Australian Open director Craig Tiley.

“There’s been a lot of questions and in fact this is the first time publicly in six months that he’s said anything, so we are excited that he agreed to come here and do it with the ball kids,” Tiley said.

“So he’s ready to play. I’ve watched him practise.

“Obviously to play best-of-five-set matches and to play seven of them in two weeks, he’d need to have a lot of things go his way.

“But, as he indicated this morning, he will be ready to play and it’s great to see him out here.”

NADAL BACK

Tiley’s mood would have improved even further after Nadal returned to the court for an exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic.

The Spaniard had also been battling a knee injury and had not played since the season-ending ATP Tour Finals in London.

He withdrew from a warm-up tournament in Abu Dhabi and last week’s Brisbane International and had been concerned with his match fitness.

“It was a good test for me and good practice,” said the Spaniard after his 6-4, 7-5 loss, in which he appeared to be moving freely, if not a little rusty in his shotmaking.

“I’m good and I am here so that’s good news and my idea is just to keep practising the next couple of days to be ready for the beginning of the Australian Open."

Nadal’s knee injury hampered the end of his 2017 season and forced him to skip last week’s Brisbane International, but he was happy that it "held up fine".

Though he lost in straight sets, the Spaniard said he would keep working hard until the start of the Australian Open at Melbourne Park next Monday.

“I"m very happy to be back in Australia,” he said. “I had a heavy year in 2017 and I started my preparation later than usual. But I’ve arrived in plenty of time. It’s great to get the feeling once again of playing a match. This was a good test for me after some good training, that’s the most important thing.”

The 16-time Grand Slam winner was far from his best in the exhibition encounter against a player he has beaten 15-0 on the ATP Tour in a rivalry dating back to junior days.

Nadal, 31, heads the entry list for the Australian Open and said he will be ready to front up for the first round.

“The knee is fine,” he said in answer to the inevitable question. “I’m here. If I was not feeling good, I would not be here, so that’s good news. I’ll train hard over the next few days for the Australian Open, I will be ready.”

Best in history

Nadal is not playing any more matches at Kooyong, but he is also scheduled to turn out for a Tie Break Tens tournament at Melbourne Park on Wednesday (Jan 10) evening.

Gasquet, who missed Kooyong last year through illness and injury, was happy to get even an informal win over the Spaniard.

“It’s always a pleasure to play Rafa – I hope to beat him one day on the ATP before retiring. He’s a friend of mine and it’s great to play him,” he said.

“I’m happy with how I’m playing after a test against Rafa, who along with Federer is the best in history.”

Gasquet took the opening set, relying on a single break for 5-4 before serving it out against an opponent still trying to shake off the rust of inactivity.

The Frenchman found himself in more of a battle in the second set despite going up a double break for 3-0.

The deficit barely bothered Nadal, who showed some of his classic form in closing the gap to 3-3.

Gasquet forced Nadal to save break-points throughout as the pair stayed level-pegging.

But the Frenchman finally broke for 6-5 and claimed victory with a smash winner on his first match-point a game later.

Separately, Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta defeated Belgian world No. 7 David Goffin 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.

In the women’s competition, Germany’s Andrea Petkovic rallied to defeat Australian teenager Destanee Aiava 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in windy conditions. – AFP, Reuters