Tennis

Nadal, Wawrinka ready for Australian Open

Former champions shake off injury doubts ahead of season-opening Grand Slam

Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka gave Australian Open organisers a massive boost yesterday, when both said they were looking forward to next week's season-opening Grand Slam after battling long-term injuries.

Nadal, 31, said his knee is holding up fine, after losing 6-4, 7-5 to Richard Gasquet in an exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne yesterday.

The world No. 1 had not played since the season-ending ATP Tour Finals in London last November.

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 Nadal after the match, in which he appeared to be moving freely, if not a little rusty in his shot-making.

"I'm good and I'm here, so that's good news.

"My idea is just to keep practising the next couple of days to be ready for the beginning of the Australian Open."

The knee is fine. I’m here. If I was not feeling good, I would not be here, so that’s good news. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal on his fitness ahead of next week’s Australian Open]

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

Though he lost to Gasquet 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."

Nadal heads the entry list for the Australian Open and said he will be ready for the first round.

"The knee is fine," he said in reply 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."

Nadal is not playing any more matches at Kooyong, but he is scheduled to turn out for a Tie Break Tens tournament at Melbourne Park today.

Former winner Stan Wawrinka also said yesterday he's hungry to return to action at the Australian Open after six months on the sidelines.

The three-time Grand Slam champion hasn't played since Wimbledon, but said he has recovered sufficiently from a knee injury to feature in the year's opening Grand Slam.

"I'm really, really happy to be back on the Tour and seeing the sun," said the 32-year-old Swiss.

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

Wawrinka, who beat Nadal to win the 2014 Australian title, has slipped to ninth in the world rankings, having not played since his first-round Wimbledon loss to Russian Daniil Medvedev last July. - AFP, REUTERS