Rafael Nadal has all but confirmed that he will play at the Australian Open, putting doubts about his fitness to one side by posting a picture of himself on Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.
Returning to the scene of his 2009 victory, a beaming Nadal said: “Don’t tell anyone, here I am”.
There were questions about whether the 20-time Grand Slam champion would compete next month, having only recently returned from a long-term foot injury at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi before Christmas, before he also tested positive for coronavirus.
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Speaking after the tournament, and before his Covid-19 result was confirmed, Nadal said that he had not made up his mind about Melbourne.
“The idea is to go there and try my best there in Australia... Being 100 per cent honest, I can't guarantee it,” he said at the time.
“I need to speak with my team. It's more than six months since the last real official match. Things are difficult and I accept that.”
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Rumours of Nadal’s trip to Australia began a few days ago when he appeared on the entry list for a warm-up tournament in Melbourne, but there was also acceptance that he could have done that even if he had doubts.
His comeback in Abu Dhabi was hit by straight-set defeats to Andy Murray and Denis Shapovalov, but he was encouragingly not thrashed by either of them - despite not playing a competitive match since August.
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The 35-year-old Spaniard is the only one of the “big three” men’s tennis players to confirm their participation at the Australian Open. Roger Federer last month ruled himself out as he continues to recover from multiple operations on his knee, while doubts continue about Novak Djokovic’s title defence.
The world number one has repeatedly refused to disclose his coronavirus vaccination status but has also voiced his concerns on jabs. Unless medically exempt, everyone on site at Melbourne Park will need to have had at least two doses of a Covid vaccine.
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