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Rafael Nadal, interviewed by Marcos Baghdatis, takes questions from fans in the lively MWTC Tennis Village. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Rafa Nadal is set to make his comeback from injury at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event in Abu Dhabi this week and the Spaniard said on Thursday he hopes he can get back to his best in time for next month’s Australian Open.

Nadal has spent the last four months on the sidelines with a foot injury while he also struggled with back issues at the start of this year.

The 35-year-old Spaniard was knocked out at Roland Garros in the semi-finals before he was forced to pull out of Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics and the US Open. He last competed in August at the Citi Open in Washington.

“I am feeling better, if not I will not be here. That’s the goal, I know the comeback will not be easy,” Nadal told reporters.

“I don’t have big expectations now, but my only expectation is to be here, to play in front of a great crowd again, to feel myself competing again against great players and then enjoy.

“It has been a very tough period of time for me honestly, so just being here is a great news for me, just enjoying the situation and I really hope the foot is going to get better and better, to be again at the way and at the level I want to be.” Nadal is tied with world number one Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on a record 20 Grand Slam wins.

An Australian Open champion in 2009 and also a four-times runner-up in Melbourne, Nadal said he hopes to play one tournament before the season’s first Grand Slam from Jan. 17-30.

“I am fighting to be ready if the situation changes, and I feel myself healthy and I am able to play the tournament before Australia and be there for 20 days before the tournament, the Australian Open start, and practising,” he added.

“I have been doing a great job at home, practising well with the right tactic and intensity, working a lot on my fitness.”

Meanwhile, two-time Mubadala champion Andy Murray produced a masterful performance to see off compatriot Dan Evans 6-3, 6-2 to set up a blockbuster semi-final with Nadal.

The Mubadala World Tennis Championship made a welcome return at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City with the star-studded line-up engaging with fans on and off court on Day 1 of the three-day festival.

It was game on in the MWTC Tennis Village as soon as the doors opened, with tennis fans eager to soak up the special atmosphere once again, which is back for its 13th edition with full capacity.

Fans flocked to quiz their favourite players in a series of Q&A sessions, while lucky visitors and Mubadala Community Cup (MCC) presented by Healthpoint players got the chance to join the stars on court for a tennis clinic.

Stars show the way

US No1 Taylor Fritz, British star Dan Evans and world No 5 Andrey Rublev were among the stars to host clinics on Day 1, offering advice and sharing tips and tricks with aspiring players.

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Taylor Fritz held a clinic, offering advice and tips and tricks to the aspiring players. Image Credit: Supplied

The players didn’t have it all their own way, however. During his clinic, Rublev challenged youngsters to stay focused, with any player who missed the ball having to sit on the floor for the remainder of the game. However, the gameplan backfired on the Russian ace as he missed one ball and was forced to take his place on the floor!

Bencic holds court

Tokyo Olympics singles gold medal winner Belinda Bencic took time out of her preparation ahead of her match with Ons Jabeur to speak with fans in the Village, where she recalled memories of her 2021 “highlight moment” in Japan and shared her goals for the new season.

“I would say it was (winning Olympic medal) the highlight of my career, I don’t think there was anything bigger than playing in the Olympics; I was super excited about it. I played some good tennis and I hope I can continue like that next season.

“I still have goals and dreams and hopefully one day I can try and get close to a Grand Slam.”

Net some fun

There’s something for everyone in the Tennis Village, especially young fans. A colouring wall allows ticket holders to paint caricatures of previous MWTC winners, including Rafael Nadel, Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Novak Djokovic, Kevin Anderson, and Jelena Ostapenko.

A dedicated Kids Corner features several fun activities and games with prizes on offer, while caricature artist, Miguel, is sketching images of fans passing by.

_ With inputs from Reuters