Nadal: "If I Was Not Feeling Good, I Would Not Be Here"
Rafael Nadal enjoyed a tremendous 2018 season, going 45-4, advancing to at least the quarter-finals at all nine tournaments he played, lifting the trophy at five of them. While injury kept the Spaniard off the court after the US Open, the 2009 champion is ready to go at the Australian Open, where he is excited to chase his second title.
"I feel good. If I was not feeling good, I would not be here," said Nadal, who faces home favourite James Duckworth in the first round. "After surgery [on my foot], after months without competing, having troubles practising, of course there are always issues when you come back. But [it's] nothing new for me."
Nadal has been a consistent performer in Melbourne, making the last eight at the year's first major in 10 of his past 11 appearances, including four trips to the final. But Nadal may need to overcome a familiar foe en route to the championship match this year. The former World No. 1 could meet third seed Roger Federer in the semi-finals in a repeat of their epic five-set 2017 final, won by Federer.
"The 2017 [Australian Open was] a special situation," said Nadal. "Both [Federer and I] came back from a very long time without playing tennis. Nobody expected that, and it happened... That was big.
"But today is a different story. We are back to the top positions, fighting for things again. It always has been a big challenge to face Roger all around the world, on the different surfaces [and in] different scenarios. The 2017 [final] here is one of the matches that is going to stay in our minds."
The Spaniard will be showcasing a new service motion when he meets Duckworth for the first time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Nadal and his coaching team spent their time away from the court tweaking the Spaniard's service technique in an attempt to produce more velocity and immediately put opponents under pressure.
"There are always things to improve," said Nadal. "The serve was always a thing that I tried to improve, and I think I did.
"Maybe it was the time to try to make one more step. That's what we are trying. I am happy with it... I didn't compete with this new serve, so let's see how it works. I am confident it's going to work well."
Nadal also took a moment to reflect on former World No. 1 Andy Murray's announcement that he will retire during the 2019 ATP Tour season. Murray, who has continued to struggle with right hip pain that caused him to have surgery one year ago, is hoping to end his career in front of home fans at Wimbledon in July.
"Of course it is very bad news," said Nadal. "When somebody like him [who has] achieved almost everything in his tennis career, is suffering like he [has been] doing for such a long time already and you feel that you are not competitive for the thing that really makes you wake up every morning and go on court with the passion to practise, to improve, and with a goal, then it is so difficult...
"[Murray] will be a very important loss for us, for the world of tennis, for the Tour, for the fans, even for rivals. He has been part of a great rivalry between the best players for a long time and a great competitor... So all the best for him. We will miss him."
Nadal and Murray have contested one of the greatest FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalries of this generation, meeting on 24 occasions (Nadal leads 17-7). Nadal and Murray's tour-level rivalry began at the 2007 Australian Open, with the Spaniard recovering from two sets to one down to beat Murray 6-7(3), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in three hours and 51 minutes.
"We shared competitions at the under-13 and under-14 levels," said Nadal. "We have known each other since a very long, long time ago... I always had a good relationship with him. We shared moments in my academy. We shared moments playing some exhibitions all around the world. We shared the court in the most important stadiums in the world, competing for the most important things. That's impossible to forget."