Nothing new, Rafael Nadal: the limit is the body

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Returning to tennis by winning the title in Brisbane would have been ideal, no doubt, but Rafael Nadal can draw many positive conclusions from his three matches in Australia. The main one? Something he already knows: the problem is never in his tennis or his mentality, it’s in his body, in his physique. It was his body who put him out of action for a year, and it will be the body again who will define if the bet for 2024 makes sense.

“I hope it’s not a big deal and I get a chance to train next week and play in Melbourne. Honestly, now I’m not sure of anything,” said the Spaniard after losing to Australian Jordan Thompson 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 6-3 in three hours and 25 minutes of play. Nadal had three match points in the second set, but could not take advantage of them.

After three hours of play against the world number 55, Nadal touched his iliac psoas, which he had surgery on last year. An injury again? The 14-time Roland Garros champion thinks not. He hopes not: in 21 years of career he was five out, not competing due to different injuries.

“I feel the muscle tired. I mean, for sure it’s not the same as last year at all because when it happened I felt something drastic immediately. Today I didn’t feel anything. The only problem is, because the place is the same, you’re a little bit more scared than usual.”

“I have to see how I wake up tomorrow morning. We’ve been talking these last few days, talking about the positive things. That’s why I’m not too positive when I talk. I’ve been talking very cautiously because I know that after a year it’s difficult for the body to be playing tournaments at the highest level. When things get tougher, you don’t know how your body is going to react.”

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That’s what it’s all about halfway to 38 years of life and after more than a quarter of a century of competing: the body. Because, as Nadal himself said in his first days in Brisbane, he doesn’t seem to have forgotten about playing tennis. “Obviously,” he stressed, using a word all his own.

He played three matches, won two very convincingly and came within a whisker of advancing to the semi-finals. Nadal’s record, after a year without competing, is good.

The quarter-finals in Brisbane, a tournament he entered as 672nd in the world rankings, will return him to a place in the top 350. But Nadal’s place is somewhere else, right up there among the big boys. If in a few days he is not seen in Melbourne preparing thoroughly for the Australian Open, Brisbane and Thompson will become much more than an anecdote.

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