Ahead of his comeback to the tour at the Brisbane International after nearly 12 months away due to a hip injury, Rafael Nadal made clear his priority was to stay healthy with a mid-term goal of reaching his best level in three months, lowering expectations from the onset.
Having not played on tour in nearly a year due to a hip injury that required surgery last June, former world number one Rafael Nadal set off his comeback journey by contesting the Australian swing.
However, a micro tear in a hip muscle sustained during a marathon three-setter quarterfinal match against Jordan Thompson at the Brisbane International tournament halted the Spaniard’s campaign.
Moreover, the physical issue forced the 92-time ATP titlist to sit out from the first major of the season, the Australian Open.
In a social media post, Nadal wrote: “During my last match in Brisbane, I had a small problem with a muscle that, as you know, made me worried.
“Once I got to Melbourne, I had the chance to make an MRI, and I have (a) micro tear on a muscle, not in the same part where I had the injury, and that’s good news.”
Adding: “Right now, I am not ready to compete at the maximum level of exigence in five sets matches. I’m flying back to Spain to see my doctor, get some treatment, and rest.”
The quarterfinal clash against Thompson, his third in four days, tested the 37-year-old body across three hours and 25 minutes.
During a crucial second set, Nadal fighting spirit led him to rally into a tiebreaker he lost, missing three match-point opportunities, which ultimately cost him high.
The injury scare came in the deciding third set when he requested a medical timeout to receive treatment for his upper left leg.
Meanwhile, Thompson, 29, got the better of the Manacor native to notch a 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-3 win at Pat Rafter Arena.
Eventually, the Australian player fell to second seed and two-time champion Grigor Dimitrov in the semifinal.
At the ATP 250 event held in Brisbane, the “King of Clay” made a winning return to tour-level competition, earning his first-round singles match over Austrian qualifier Dominic Thiem.
The Spanish player displayed great consistency and power, nearly flawless behind his serve in his first outing on the hard courts.
“I [didn’t] know what could happen today,” he said. “It’s a day to be happy. I have a day off tomorrow to keep practicing. I am excited to have the chance to play another time. That is the most important thing for me.”
Taking one day at a time, he hit back the court at the Queensland Tennis Centre to face Aussie Jason Kubler, producing another straight-set victory to progress to the quarterfinals.
At times, it felt like he had never left, taking an aggressive approach from the baseline, excelling with his return game while charging at the net with precision.
“I have worked very hard during the year for this comeback, and as I always mentioned, my goal is to be at my best level in three months,” he remarked.
“Within the sad news for me for not being able to play in front of the amazing Melbourne crowds, this is not very bad news, and we all remain positive with the evolution for the season.”
“I really wanted to play here in Australia, and I have had the chance to play a few matches that made me very happy and positive.”
The Australian Open runs from January 14 to 29 in Melbourne.