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Spain's Rafael Nadal serves as he plays along with partner against Australia's Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson during their men's doubles match at the Brisbane International on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Brisbane: Rafael Nadal left the door ajar on Sunday to continuing after the 2024 season, but conceded there was “a high percentage” that he was on his last trip as a player to Australia.

Speaking ahead of his comeback from a 12-month injury absence at the season-opening Brisbane International, the 37-year-old Spaniard said he did not know for sure what the future held.

“The problem about saying that’s going to be my last season is I can’t predict what’s going on 100 per cent in the future,” he said.

“That’s why I say ‘probably’. It’s obvious it’s a high percentage that it’s going to be my last time playing here in Australia.

“But if I am here next year, don’t tell me, ‘You said it was going to be your last season’, because I didn’t say it.

“You never know what’s going on, you know? I can’t predict how I’m going to be in the next six months. I can’t predict if my body will allow me to enjoy tennis as much as I enjoyed the past 20 years.

“It’s not an easy decision, but I know inside myself that it is a high percentage that it’s going to be my last one.”

The 22-time Grand Slam champion said that the last year, with surgery for a hip injury, had been tough and he contemplated quitting at one point during his recovery.

Future ‘unpredictable’

But he said he had never lost his love for the sport, which motivated him to keep going.

“Of course I was asking myself that (about retirement), but at some point I decided to keep going. I had the determination to keep going.”

Nadal, who has been sidelined since injuring his hip at the 2023 Australian Open, begins his singles comeback against a qualifier in the first round in Brisbane.

He will make a low-key return later Sunday when he plays doubles.

Asked whether he identified with Naomi Osaka, who on Saturday admitted she had fallen out of love with tennis during her break from the tour, Nadal said that was not the case for him.

“She got tired or lost a little bit of motivation for the game,” he said.

“That never happened to me. I had to be away because my body was not able to keep going.”

Nadal said the long absence had allowed his body to heal and he no longer woke up every morning in pain, but he had no expectations heading into the new season and would take it week-by-week.

“Competing is different than practising, but in terms of practising with the guys here, I am quite happy because I feel competitive against the players that I played in practice,” he said.

“Of course I don’t have the expectations that I used to have in the past.

“It’s obvious, no? It’s one year (away). It’s surgery. For me it is a little bit unpredictable how things are going to be.”

Doubles defeat

Rafa Nadal returned to action for the first time since January at the Brisbane International on Sunday, losing his doubles match but overall showing no obvious after-effects of the hip injury that ruined his year.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion, who is gearing up for the Jan. 14-28 Australian Open, sustained the hip problem in his second round loss at Melbourne Park at the start of 2023 and ended his season early after having surgery in June.

Nadal rekindled his partnership with retired veteran Marc Lopez, with whom he won an Olympic gold medal in 2016, for his comeback but the duo lost 6-4 6-4 to Australians Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson at a packed Pat Rafter Arena.

“It’s great to see Rafa back,” said Thompson. “I’ve been on the receiving end a couple of times in singles, so it’s nice to get him back on a doubles court.” The 37-year-old Nadal was warmly welcomed by fans who held up Spanish flags and supportive messages while the loudest cheers were reserved for his trademark whipped shots and a powerful crosscourt backhand winner in the opening set.

Nadal is likely to get a similar reception in his singles opener on Tuesday against qualifier Dominic Thiem, whom he beat in the 2018 and 2019 French Open finals and holds a 9-6 win-loss record against.

Former women’s world number one Naomi Osaka will also make her comeback following maternity break when she meets Tamara Korpatsch on Monday.

The 26-year-old from Japan last competed on the tour in September 2022 and welcomed her first child, daughter Shai, in July.

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens got her campaign off to a good start as she beat Katerina Siniakova 7-5 6-3 while Camila Giorgi survived a scare to get past Peyton Stearns 5-7 6-2 6-3.

Russian 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva also reached the second round with a 6-2 6-3 win over Diana Shnaider.