Tennis: Rafa fishing for Slam Titles

World No. 9 Rafael Nadal (left) working with his childhood idol and coach Carlos Moya ahead of his Australian Open campaign. The 14-time Major champion has not reached the semi-final of a grand slam since 2014.
World No. 9 Rafael Nadal (left) working with his childhood idol and coach Carlos Moya ahead of his Australian Open campaign. The 14-time Major champion has not reached the semi-final of a grand slam since 2014.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Spaniard continues to play through the pain because he believes he can win Major c'ships

MELBOURNE • Rafael Nadal yesterday revealed his battle against chronic pain but said he was hopeful of keeping his Grand Slam career alive as he launches his partnership with new coach Carlos Moya.

Injury-hit Nadal, 30, said he had not played without pain for years but remained optimistic of challenging for big titles again.

When asked if he was free of pain and injuries, the Spaniard smiled ruefully and said: "I am not injured, no. Pain-free is a long time ago."

Physical fitness could be a factor in Melbourne this week in what can be the most gruelling conditions of the year, with temperatures forecast to soar towards 40 deg C.

Nadal has not reached a grand slam semi-final since 2014 but after lengthy discussions with his long-time coach, his uncle Toni Nadal, he hired fellow Mallorcan Moya last month.

  • Four to watch at Australian Open

  • THE MEN

    GRIGOR DIMITROV (BUL)

    • Age: 25 

    • World No. 15

    He stayed calm in the big moments to beat three top-10 players in a row on the way to the Brisbane International title this month - No. 8 Dominic Thiem, No. 3 Milos Raonic and No. 5 Kei Nishikori.

    The Bulgarian's remarkable shot-making ability is still there, but he is winning by keeping more balls in play, especially on the return of serve.

    ALEXANDER ZVEREV (GER)

    • Age: 19

    • World No. 24

    He began the season by beating Roger Federer in the Hopman Cup in Perth.

    Zverev has a complete game, with a serve that at times seems unreturnable.

    The German's physical strength is improving under the guidance of Jez Green, who helped Andy Murray grow from a scrawny teenager to a superbly fit athlete.

  • THE WOMEN

    KAROLINA PLISKOVA (CZE)

    • Age: 24 

    • World No. 5

    She began this season by dominating the field, dropping only one set en route to winning in Brisbane.

    The Czech's clean, economical technique allows her to hit at great pace with seeming ease. But her serve is what has vaulted her to the top of the women's game.

    Her smooth delivery is a pleasure to behold, as she hits her targets with pinpoint accuracy.

    DARIA KASATKINA (RUS)

    • Age: 19

     • World No. 26

    She stunned top-ranked Angelique Kerber in straight sets in Sydney last week, and came within a point of toppling Garbine Muguruza the week before in Brisbane.

    The Russian is a powerful all-court player who uses her heavy top-spin forehand to open up the court.

    She volleys superbly and attacks the net when she earns a short ball. The aggressive ball striker can also play patiently from the back-court, mixing in loops and slices to break up an opponent's rhythm.

    NYTIMES

"I am not a person who takes decisions like this," Nadal said, clicking his fingers. "I need to talk. More than anything, you know, my uncle is my coach. He is a person that is decisive in my career, so I need to talk with him before taking any of these decisions.

"I will never take a decision like this if Toni is not happy with it."

The 14-time Major champion added: "He's (Moya) a person that I practised with during almost all my career since I was 15 until he retired... It's not a big deal, no? He is close to my house. He lives in Mallorca, too."

The world No. 9 plays Germany's Florian Mayer in the first round tomorrow and is seeded to meet top-rated teenager Alexander Zverev in the third round.

Last year, Nadal lost in the first round at Melbourne Park to compatriot Fernando Verdasco. But he said he would not be playing if he did not think he had a chance of lifting the trophy.

"If I don't believe that I can be competitive - and when I say 'competitive', it's fighting for the things that I fought for during the last 10 years - I will be probably playing golf or fishing at home," the former world No. 1 added.

"I am being honest about this. If I am here it's because I believe... I can fight for the things that really motivate me."

Roger Federer, also coming back from injury after six months on the sidelines with a knee problem, opens his campaign today against qualifier Jurgen Melzer of Austria.

World No. 1 Andy Murray may await him in the quarter-finals but Federer is not bothered by the impending challenge.

"As long as I'm healthy and I feel like I can go four, five sets, I can go many matches in a row, then I think it's going to be fun," said the 17-time Major champion. "It's a great draw because I'm in the draw. So for me I'm super pleased that I made it here, that I have an opportunity to win matches.

"How many (victories) remains to be seen."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

AUSTRALIAN OPEN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Rafa fishing for Slam Titles'. Print Edition | Subscribe