Rafael Nadal is satisfied with his first match back after undergoing ankle surgery last month but admits he will have to pull out of his third-place play-off in Abu Dhabi to avoid pushing his body too much too soon.
With the goal of being fit for the Australian Open in mind, Nadal will take the next two days off after losing a tight three-setter 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to Kevin Anderson at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in the UAE capital on Friday.
The Spaniard, who hadn’t played a match since retiring from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September due to a knee injury, was happy with how he was able to play a competitive clash against the sixth-ranked Anderson, but concedes that he spent more time on court than initially anticipated and it’s too early for him to play back-to-back matches against top players.
Nadal only got back to training two weeks ago in preparation for the new season and is now scheduled to kick off his 2019 in Brisbane next week.
“When you are out since long time ago, I had the surgery a little over a month ago, it’s normal that I have some pains. Being honest, I’m satisfied the way I was playing tennis. I am more or less satisfied with how the body held,” Nadal said after his loss to Anderson.
“Tough match, three-set match, I didn’t play sets before here. And at the same time, I have normal pains after a long time without playing, so probably tomorrow I will not play.
“I will take a couple of days off. The season just started for me, it was a goal to be here, I tried hard to be here after surgery not too long ago, I was not sure if I will have the chance to start the season, and I did.
“Last year I missed this event, last moment, I didn’t want to miss it again. But, at some point I need to take a decision and I spent more time on court than what I thought. It’s not the moment for me to make a step back, it’s the moment to make a step forward, the match of today is a step forward for me, that’s the main thing.
“I suffered a lot in terms of injury. I don’t want to suffer more, I want to make the things the right way, step by step and that’s it. My goal is try to be ready for the Australian Open and I think I’m on the way to make that happen but of course I can’t take a lot of risk being the first match after a lot of months and especially after the surgery.”
Asked if he was still planning on playing Brisbane, Nadal said: “I’m booked Brisbane. My goal is to be there and play there. Being honest, that’s my plan.”
In the match against Anderson, Nadal showcased an aggressive game on the fast courts of Abu Dhabi, which meant he hit a few uncharacteristic errors in the decider.
He also sported a new service motion which Anderson spotted early on in the match.
“I saw that pretty much straightaway in the warm-ups. The take back looks a little bit different. I’ve seen him playing a lot throughout the years and he’s sort of changed that motion a few times. Even his groundies look different now than they did 13 or 14 years ago when he first came out. He’s had a bit of time off, away, so sometimes you make a few adjustments. It’ll be interesting to see how that might help his serve throughout this coming season.”
Nadal was due to face Karen Khachanov on Saturday in Abu Dhabi after the young Russian lost to an impressive Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 on Friday.
Earlier in the day, Chung Hyeon defeated Dominic Thiem in the fifth-place play-off.
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