Nadal says in­jury is­sues are be­hind him ahead of Mubadala.

Both­ered by wrist and knee is­sues the past few sea­sons, the for­mer world No 1 says he ‘feels healthy, and that’s im­por­tant’

The National - News - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - Ahmed Rizvi [email protected]­

ABU DHABI // Rafael Nadal’s fans can breathe easy.

His ever-grow­ing cat­a­logue of in­juries may have scarred the body and bat­tered his con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially over the past two sea­sons, but the 14-time ma­jor win­ner is not ready to walk away from the sport just yet, at least not in the next 12 months.

Given his strug­gles with form and fit­ness over the past few years, there has been spec­u­la­tion 2017 could be the Spa­niard’s farewell sea­son, but that is not in his thoughts

“Ev­ery­body is free to say what­ever they want, but that’s not my plan,” said Nadal, 30, speak­ing to the me­dia yes­ter­day at the Go­diva Choco­late Cafe in Abu Dhabi’s The Gal­le­ria. Nadal opens his Mubadala World Tennis Cham­pi­onship (MWTC) sched­ule against To­mas Berdych tonight.

“My idea is to stay here for a few more years and I feel enough mo­ti­va­tion to be here. I be­lieve that I can com­pete for im­por­tant things in the next three years.”

Strug­gling with a re­cur­ring left wrist in­jury for most of this sea­son, the for­mer world No 1, who has missed close to 30 months of tennis be­cause of in­juries in his ca­reer, had brought his sea­son to an early end fol­low­ing his first round exit from the Shang­hai Mas­ters in Oc­to­ber. The break ap­pears to have been good for him. He looks re­ju­ve­nated and, to use his own words, “ex­cited” about re­turn­ing to the tour.

“It’s great to start here in Abu Dhabi again and I am ex­cited about play­ing To­mas to­mor­row,” said Nadal, who de­feated Mi­los Raonic in the MWTC fi­nal last sea­son to win the tour­na­ment for a third time.

“I like com­ing here. It’s a chance to play tough matches and gain rhythm, es­pe­cially when you are com­ing from months with­out com­pet­ing. “That kind of helps. “So it’s go­ing to be a good start.

“I have prac­tised a lot dur­ing the past few months and now I feel ready for the ac­tion.”

Hav­ing started prac­tis­ing again a month-and-a-half ago, Nadal said is feel­ing health­ier than he has in re­cent past.

And, for the first time in many sea­sons, he is feel­ing con­fi­dent about his trou­ble­some knees as well.

So con­fi­dent that he has de­cided to change his sched­ule for 2017 and skip his Fe­bru­ary trip to Brazil for the tour­na­ment in Rio, which had served as a con­fi­dence booster for him on his favoured sur­face, clay, to fo­cus on hard­court play in­stead.

“I feel healthy and that’s the most im­por­tant thing,” said Nadal, whose in­jury woes started at the age 17 when he dis­cov­ered the rea­son be­hind the pain and swelling in his left foot – a rare con­gen­i­tal con­di­tion called Kohler’s feet.

The grow­ing con­fi­dence in his knees, Nadal said, also meant he could “work again on things that I did not work on over the last cou­ple of years be­cause the knees didn’t al­low me.

“I have been able to do it dur­ing this off sea­son, and that is

I like com­ing here. It’s a chance to play tough matches and gain rhythm, es­pe­cially when you are com­ing from months with­out com­pet­ing Rafael Nadal World No 9

some­thing, I ex­pect, can bring me re­ally pos­i­tive re­sults.

“I don’t know from the be­gin­ning be­cause be­gin­nings are al­ways tough, es­pe­cially when you have been away for months from the com­pe­ti­tion. “But in the long run, for sure.” To help him achieve those re­sults, Nadal has added for­mer world No 1 Car­los Moya to his coach­ing team that in­cludes his un­cle Toni Nadal and Fran­cis Roig.

“Car­los is a good per­son, a good friend and for me it is im­por­tant that I have peo­ple around me who want the best for me,” he said.

“It’s not busi­ness, it’s a re­la­tion­ship, and with Car­los I am sure about that.

“I am happy prac­tis­ing with Toni, Fran­cis and Car­los.

“We are do­ing the right things and work­ing hard, and we have the right mo­ti­va­tion to try to reach the lev­els I was at be­fore I got in­jured.

“I love the game and I am happy I can play with­out any ma­jor pres­sure be­cause I have done ev­ery­thing in my ca­reer.

“Now, it is just this pas­sion to keep go­ing, and that’s my main goal.”

Fran­cois Nel / Getty Im­ages

Spa­niard Rafael Nadal was at Al Maryah Is­land in Abu Dhabi yes­ter­day where he said he has a bright out­look on his play­ing ca­reer ahead.

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