MELBOURNE • Rafael Nadal said he took a lot of positives out of the Australian Open on his return from injury, despite being thrashed by Novak Djokovic in the men's singles final yesterday.
The Spanish second seed had played an outstanding level of tennis at the tournament without dropping a set until he met his arch-rival on the Rod Laver Arena.
And the 32-year-old had no answer to the world No. 1's booming groundstrokes and precision serve as he was outclassed 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 in just 2hr 4min.
Despite the rout, Nadal said he was content with being able to even reach the final given the injury problems that prevented him from playing any matches after the US Open until he got to Melbourne.
"Tonight was not my best day, and, of course, I had someone who played a lot better than me," he said.
"I have been going through tough moments in the last year. (I have played) only nine events and, since the US Open, I was not able to play until the first round here.
"Even if tonight was not my night, it's so important for me to be where I am coming back from injury. I really believe I played a great two weeks of tennis, there's a good energy and good inspiration for what is coming."
Nadal had not played a main tour event since a knee problem forced him to retire during his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September.
The 32-year-old had surgery on his ankle in November to remove a loose intra-articular body and resumed training only last month.
He played the opening round at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi to start his season, where he lost to South African Kevin Anderson, and withdrew from the warm-up Brisbane International. But, en route to the final, he emphatically shattered the dreams of three of the NextGen stars - 19-year-old Alex de Minaur, Frances Tiafoe, 21, and Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20.
And Nadal, with 17 Grand Slam titles to his name, vowed there was more to come despite being 32 and guaranteed to be considered among the best in the men's game.
"I can only say one thing. I am going to keep working hard and fighting to be better," he said.
"I want to keep fighting and practising to give myself better chances in the future."