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Nadal admits vulnerability ahead of Australian Open title defence

The Spaniard has lost six of his past seven matches and faces a tough first-round match against Briton Jack Draper

Rafael Nadal AO practice 2023 AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Rafael Nadal admits his form leaves him vulnerable to an early exit as he begins the defence of his Australian Open title.

Twelve months on from his miraculous comeback in the final against Daniil Medvedev, the 36-year-old is the top seed in the absence of the injured Carlos Alcaraz but he has lost six of his past seven matches and faces a tough first-round match against Britain’s Jack Draper on Monday.

Typically honest in press at Melbourne Park on Saturday. Nadal did not duck the issue when asked specifically if he felt vulnerable.

“Yeah, without a doubt,” he said, I have been losing more than usual, so that’s part of the business. Just accept the situation. I think I am humble enough to accept that situation and just work with what I have today.

Nadal: “I need to build momentum”

Nadal, who struggled with injuries in the second half of 2022, lost both his matches at the United Cup, to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur.

“I need to build again all this momentum. I need to build again this confidence with myself with victories. But it’s true that I have been losing more than usual,” he said. “Of course, we can talk about things that happen last year, all the situations that I had faced. But the real thing is I have been losing more than usual.

“I need to live with it and just fight for the victories. By the way, I didn’t play that bad the first two matches the year. I lost against two great opponents, but having very positive chances to win both matches.”

Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev AO 2022
Nadal and Medvedev after the Australian Open final in 2022 © Panoramic

Nadal wary of Draper threat

Draper has been one of the fastest rising young players on the ATP Tour, moving up to No 40. With a big serve and powerful groundstrokes, the left-handed Briton is a danger to everyone and Nadal knows it.

“It is probably one of the toughest first round possible, being seeded,” he said. “(Draper is) young, powerful, growing very, very fast on the ranking, playing well. A big challenge for me at the beginning to start the tournament.

“Let’s see. I’m here to just give myself a chance. I know he’s playing well. He has a lot of positive things, and probably a great career in front. I hope to be ready to fight for that first round and let’s see what can happen.”

Nadal: “My personal momentum is not bad”

Despite his recent results, the 22-time Grand Slam champion said he felt good about the state of his game.

“I already have been here for three weeks, practicing every day with that conditions, with the best players. That helps a lot in general terms,” he said. “My situation, I don’t know what can happen on Monday, but my personal feeling, without a doubt, is better now than three weeks ago, in general terms.

“My personal momentum is not bad, I tell you. I am good and happy. I’m practicing well. Then I need to win a couple of matches. If that can happen here – I hope. If don’t, I going to keep working to make that happen as soon as possible.

“From my experience, I tell you one thing. I mean, I can go here on Monday and lose without a doubt and not going to be the end of the world. Going to be a tough moment, of course, but I going to accept it, doesn’t matter the result.

“I am going to keep working because in the end I think I am in an improvement moment that I have been better and better every single week. I feel faster in the legs. I feel playing better with more confidence. The last three weeks of preparation here have been very positive from my point of view. Then I going to go on court and I going to try my best.

“I still hope that I can play a good Australian Open. But you don’t know what can happen. The first round going to be an important one against a very tough opponent.

“But I feel ready honestly. The only thing that didn’t happen in my side is victories. That’s the real thing. But for the rest of the things that I am building to be ready for a tournament like this one, I feel quite ready.”

2022: “One of most emotional victories of my career”

And Nadal said memories of last year, when he recovered from two sets and a break down to beat Medvedev for a second Australian Open title, would inspire him along the title.

“In sports, especially in a sport like tennis, people remember the victories, no, at the end,” he said. “People are going to remember that today I have 22 Grand Slams, not that I lost another 50.

“What happened last year is going to stay in my heart and my memory forever. One of the most emotional victories of my tennis career, without a doubt. A lot of emotions coming back from a long injury. The love of the people, the atmosphere we lived here on Rod Laver Arena in that final, have been unforgettable for me.”

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