Nadal shrugs off in­jury con­cerns, pays trib­ute to Mur­ray

Sunday Observer - - SPORT -

MEL­BOURNE - For­mer cham­pion Rafael Nadal shrugged off con­cerns about his fit­ness ahead of the Aus­tralian Open and paid trib­ute to fel­low ‘Big Four’ ri­val Andy Mur­ray, a day af­ter the emo­tional Briton re­vealed plans to re­tire.

The 2009 win­ner Nadal pulled out of the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional warmup with a thigh strain, rais­ing fears about his cam­paign at Mel­bourne Park af­ter his 2018 sea­son ended early with an­kle surgery and an ab­dom­i­nal in­jury.

How­ever, the 32-year-old Spaniard de­clared him­self ready to throw him­self into a 14th cam­paign in Mel­bourne, start­ing with a first-round match against Aus­tralian wild­card James Duck­worth.

“If I am not feel­ing good, I will not be here,” the 17-times Grand Slam cham­pion said at Mel­bourne Park yes­ter­day.

“I have good feel­ings in terms of the surgery that I have in the foot. I can say it’s al­most done.

“Then, of course, af­ter surgery, af­ter months with­out com­pet­ing, hav­ing trou­bles to prac­tice, of course there is al­ways is­sues when you come back.

“But noth­ing new for me. I had a cou­ple of (times) of this. Just ac­cept the chal­lenges the body presents and the ten­nis presents.”

In an emo­tional me­dia con­fer­ence on Fri­day, a tear­ful Mur­ray re­vealed the pain from his trou­ble­some right hip was prov­ing too much to bear and said the Aus­tralian Open could be his last tour­na­ment as a pro­fes­sional.

Of the many banged-up play­ers on tour, Nadal may be the most able to em­pathise with Mur­ray, hav­ing spent long pe­ri­ods on the side­lines with se­ri­ous knee prob­lems.

“It will be a very im­por­tant loss for us, for the world of ten­nis, for the tour, for the fans, even for the ri­vals that he has been part of a great ri­valry be­tween the best play­ers for a long time, and a great com­peti­tor,” Nadal said of the three­times Grand Slam cham­pion, who he played in ju­nior tour­na­ments when they were barely into their teens.

“But that’s life. Seems like he has not (had) a very long ca­reer be­cause to­day play­ers are play­ing that long.

“But he’s 31. 10 years ago, if he re­tired at 31, we will say he had a great and very long ca­reer. That’s the real thing. So all the best for him. We will miss him.”

Nadal was forced to re­tire hurt in the fifth set of last year’s quar­ter-fi­nal against even­tual fi­nal­ist Marin Cilic, eight years af­ter pulling out mid­way through his last-eight clash against Mur­ray with a knee in­jury. Doubts about the sec­ond seed’s abil­ity to with­stand seven matches on hard­courts were re­in­forced when he re­tired in the US Open semi-fi­nal against Juan Martin del Potro last year.

De­spite that, Nadal is leav­ing no stone un­turned in Mel­bourne and brings a re­mod­elled serve aimed at gen­er­at­ing more pace and, hope­fully, short­en­ing points. “You need to make your­self feel alive, you know?” he said. “There are al­ways things to im­prove ... I didn’t com­pete with this new serve, so let’s see how it works.

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