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Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during his second round match against Mackenzie Mcdonald of the US in the Australian Open in Melbourne in January this year. Image Credit: Reuters file

Melbourne: Rafa Nadal will return to Grand Slam tennis at the Australian Open in January, tournament director Craig Tiley announced on Wednesday, though the 22-time major champion’s representative later said no timeline has been set for his comeback.

The 37-year-old former world No 1 has been sidelined since hurting his hip flexor in a second-round loss to Mackenzie McDonald at the Melbourne Park major earlier this year.

The Spaniard was initially expected to miss eight weeks but underwent surgery on a hip muscle in June.

Awesome feeling

Tiley told Nine Network’s ‘The Today Show’ that Nadal had confirmed his participation in the Grand Slam.

“We can reveal exclusively here that Rafa will be back,” Tiley said. “He’s been off for most of the year and in talking to him over the last few days he confirmed he will be back, which we’re really excited about, the champion of 2022. That’s awesome.”

However, Nadal’s representative Benito Perez-Barbadillo told Reuters via text from Shanghai that there was nothing to announce yet on the Spaniard’s upcoming schedule.

“I can confirm to you that Rafa is practising, as everyone saw on his last post on Instagram,” Perez-Barbadillo said.

Wrist and foot issues

“But there is no date confirmed, scheduled or programmed yet for his comeback.”

Tiley said Australian Nick Kyrgios could return in time to play at Melbourne Park after he had knee surgery in January and suffered wrist and foot issues in an injury-plagued 2023.

“We know Nick’s been in training, wanting to return as well. So we expect to see him back,” he added.

He added that a trio of former women’s champions — Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki — were also planning to return to the year’s first Grand Slam after maternity breaks.

“We’ll welcome them — and their families — back to Melbourne with open arms and can’t wait to see what their next chapter brings,” he added.

Rankings drop

Nadal has said he expects to retire after the 2024 season, with a series of injuries limiting his appearances on Tour.

He dropped out of the top 100 for the first time in 20 years earlier in the season and has slipped to No 240 in the world but is eligible for a protected ranking having been injured and not competing in any event for at least six months.

Nadal, who has been releasing videos of his training, has also expressed his desire to play in next year’s Paris Olympics with the tennis tournament set to take place at Roland Garros, where he has won 14 of his 22 major titles.

Record 24 Grand Slams

In Nadal’s absence, Novak Djokovic has gone on to win a record 24 Grand Slams.

Nadal has won the Australian Open twice, with his last victory coming in 2022 when he beat Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and became the first man in the Open era to come back from two sets down in the final to win.

Next year’s Australian Open will be an extended 15-day event that will run from January 14-28.