Abu Dhabi: Rafael Nadal insists he will have to ‘suffer a little bit’ as he resumes his stellar tennis career — but is determined to rival the game’s elite again in the new season.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion will make an eagerly-awaited return to action at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Friday after an injury-ridden 2014 campaign.
Nadal underwent an appendectomy to remove his appendix on November 3 in Barcelona, an operation which caused him to miss the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Prior to that, he was sidelined with a back problem at the start of the year and then missed the entire North American hard-court season, including the US Open, because of a wrist injury.
Nadal began training again in his hometown of Manacor on the Spanish island of Mallorca at the start of last month, but has warned his fans not to expect an instant return to his bludgeoning best here and at the Qatar Open next week.
“My message to my fans here is that I am here, but I know I will have to suffer a bit,” said the 28-year-old, who will play in the first semi-final of the Zayed Sports City Tennis Stadium exhibition event at 5pm on Friday.
“I know I am not going to arrive here and play a really high level of tennis. Injuries have been a part of my career, so I have to start off cautiously and the first two weeks of the season will help me to regain the physical and tennis feel, and the rhythm, needed on court.”
Is he in favour of reducing the amount of tournaments played on the gruelling ATP Tour, given that many pundits believe that a relentless schedule is to blame for his injury travails?
“We need more tournaments, but the problem is the rankings are based on an annual basis and not on two years like in other sports, which can be a problem if you’re injured,” he said.
Nadal acknowledged that emerging forces such as the first-time Grand Slam champions in 2014 — Australian Open victor Stanislas Wawrinka and US Open winner Marin Cilic — had proved their worth and challenged the hegemony of the so-called ‘Big Four’.
But he pointed out that he had won the French Open and fellow established luminaries such as Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer had also performed strongly in the Grand Slams last year.
“I want to be there too,” he said, when asked to comment on Djokovic and Federer’s enduring brilliance.
Is he also eager to become the first player to win the same Grand Slam 10 times at the French Open in June?
“I can’t think about Roland Garros now, I am only focused on practising for this tournament,” he said.