MELBOURNE • Former champions Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka gave Australian Open organisers a massive boost yesterday when they both said they were looking forward to next week's season-opening Grand Slam after battling long-term injuries.
The Australian Open has been hit hard by absences with Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Kei Nishikori among those to have withdrawn, while Nadal and Novak Djokovic have also been struggling with injuries.
World No. 1 Nadal returned to the court for an exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic yesterday after battling a knee injury and had not played since the season-ending ATP Tour Finals in London.
He withdrew from a warm-up tournament in Abu Dhabi and last week's Brisbane International and had been concerned over his match fitness.
"It was a good test for me and good practice," the 16-time Grand Slam champion told reporters after his 6-4, 7-5 defeat by Richard Gasquet in which he appeared to be moving freely, if not a little rusty in his shotmaking.
"I'm good and I am here so that's good news and my idea is just to keep practising the next couple of days to be ready for the beginning of the Australian Open.
"I'm very happy to be back in Australia. I've arrived in plenty of time. It's great to get the feeling once again of playing a match.
"The knee is fine. If I was not feeling good I would not be here, so that's good news. I will be ready."
Wawrinka has also been suffering from a knee injury and has not played since he was knocked out in the first round of Wimbledon last year, and the Swiss was one of the major question marks heading into the Jan 15-28 Australian Open.
"I'm really, really happy to be back on the Tour and seeing the sun," Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, told reporters after an event with the tournament's ball kids at Melbourne Park yesterday.
"Still a lot to do but I'm feeling really positive so looking forward to starting."
In the women's draw, Venus Williams, flying the family flag alone in Australia this year in the absence of sister Serena, fell in the second round of the Sydney International yesterday. The American lost 7-5, 3-6, 1-6 to fellow former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber.
Despite being a seven-time Grand Slam winner, Venus has never won the Australian Open, while Kerber was the 2016 champion.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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