Nadal, Osaka to make comebacks in Australia

Defending champions expect stiff competition on the return of his Spanish rival

AFP December 27, 2023


Rafael Nadal returns from a "winding, tortuous" injury journey in Brisbane this week, while fellow superstar Novak Djokovic kickstarts his bid for an unprecedented 11th Australian Open title at Perth.

It appeared last season that the veterans, with 46 Grand Slam crowns between them, may never share a competitive court again.

But the prospect is back in play with Spain's Nadal recovering from hip surgeries that sidelined him for almost a year.

He begins what is set to be a farewell season at the Brisbane International from December 31-January 7 alongside Andy Murray and world number eight Holger Rune.

Top-ranked Djokovic has opted for the mixed teams United Cup in Perth and Sydney, starting Friday, as have fellow top 10 players Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Taylor Fritz.

Barring last-minute setbacks, Nadal and Djokovic will then grace the courts of Melbourne Park for the Australian Open from January 14, perhaps for the last time together.

Nadal said he expects "nothing" from himself this time around.

"I have internalised what I have had throughout my life, which is demand myself the maximum," he said in announcing his return.

"Right now what I really hope is to be able not to do that, to accept things are going to be very difficult at the beginning and give myself the necessary time."

Since being sidelined, Nadal has been overtaken in the total number of Grand Slam tournaments won by his Serbian arch-rival, who is targeting an all-time record 25th major title in Melbourne.

Djokovic won three Grand Slams in 2023, but ended the season with two losses to burgeoning Italian Jannik Sinner at the Davis Cup.

"I always expect him (Nadal) to play at his best, to be honest. Many times they've signed him out, they've done that with me as well. But we've proved them wrong," Djokovic told journalists on the sidelines of an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in Riyadh.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka also makes her highly anticipated return in Brisbane, having not played since September 2022.

The Japanese star, who gave birth to daughter Shai in July and has previously struggled with her mental health, admitted she was "nervous" but "excited".

"I definitely want to win more Grand Slams," she said.

Women's world number one and four-time Grand Slam winner Iga Swiatek will acclimatize in Perth with her Polish teammates at the United Cup.

Aryna Sabalenka is also a starter at Brisbane in a stacked field featuring eight of the world's top 20 women.

World number three Coco Gauff defends her Auckland Classic title from January 1, after a breakthrough season for the 19-year-old that saw her claim her first Grand Slam at the US Open.


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