MELBOURNE • Rafael Nadal says the emergence of a new generation is just what tennis needs, while welcoming back old foe Roger Federer to help him keep them at bay.
The Spanish great, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, is on the comeback trail after his 2016 season was ruined by a wrist problem which has seen him slip to world No. 9.
Fellow warrior and Swiss legend Federer is also easing his way back after six months out with a knee injury, with both of them keen to return to winning ways at the big tournaments.
They will have their work cut out at the opening Grand Slam of the year at Melbourne Park, starting on Monday, with not just Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to contend with but also an emerging new breed.
Leading the pack are the likes of Austria's Dominic Thiem, the world No. 8 who reached the quarter-finals of the Sydney International tournament yesterday with a 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 7-5 win over Gastao Elias, Germany's Alex Zverev and Australia's Nick Kyrgios.
Nadal, 30, said it is good for the game to see younger players starting to make their mark.
"These guys are doing well," he said in The Australian newspaper yesterday. "It's great to have a new generation of fantastic players there and that's good for tennis.
"Tennis needs it. People sometimes get bored to see the same players all the time."
While excited by the young guns, Nadal is not yet ready to hand over the baton, believing he can still compete at the top level despite the last of his Grand Slam titles coming at the French Open in 2014.
And he is pleased to see Federer, 35, also back in the fold and playing well. "The good thing is that Roger is back on tour after probably his first important injury," Nadal said. "That's tough but he looks great."
He admitted that he may not hit his best form until later in the year.
"I think that I had a great off-season so I am excited about these next few months," he said. "You cannot say something about how Roger is, how I am, in just two weeks.
"In Melbourne anything could happen, but I give myself a little bit more time, three months, and after Miami (Miami Open in late March), let's see how I am."
Australian Bernard Tomic too believes he is among the contenders at the Australian Open, after claiming that he shed 5kg in a week.
The world No. 27 admitted putting on too much weight during the off-season and was "fat" during a disappointing first-round loss to David Ferrer at the Brisbane International last week.
"I was about 99 kilos, as opposed to 94," he said yesterday. "One more kilo and I could have gone boxing. Then in one week I trained well and did the right things and I'm feeling pretty good right now."
He also told the Sydney Daily Telegraph that he and fellow fiery Australian Nick Kyrgios - who have frequently fallen foul of the tennis authorities and have a love-hate relationship with the public - will always be "just a bit crazy" and people should get used to it.
"Obviously we are just a bit crazy," he said . "So it's tough to control that. Honestly speaking, sometimes we do lose it.
"But we do have to remain mentally strong and focused on the main thing, which is playing tennis, doing well and trying to achieve our target."
At the Australian Open warm-up tournament in Sydney, 49th- ranked Eugenie Bouchard reached her first semi-final for 10 months as she battled intense heat to down 27th-ranked Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-3.
The Canadian will next face Britain's world No. 10 Johanna Konta, who downed rising young Russian Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 7-5.
Later, world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki went down 7-5, 6-7 (6-8), 6-4 to Barbora Strycova, who will play the 2013 winner Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-final, after the Pole eliminated Duan Yingying 6-3, 6-2.
Duan was the first Chinese woman through to the quarter-finals at the Sydney International since Li Na in 2013.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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