Tennis: Rafa Nadal still struggling with back problem ahead of Australian Open

Rafael Nadal said he was still far away from the level required to play at the year's first Grand Slam.
Rafael Nadal said he was still far away from the level required to play at the year's first Grand Slam.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID (REUTERS) - Tennis' world No. 2 Rafael Nadal said on Thursday (Feb 4) that doubts remain over his fitness ahead of next week's Australian Open.

The 34-year-old pulled out of Spain's ATP Cup tie against Australia on Tuesday with a lower back problem and, despite improvement, said he was still far away from the level required to play at the year's first Grand Slam.

"It's not that I'm in a really bad way, but I'm also not all right in the sense that I can't play either," he told Spanish television channel Movistar+.

"I've improved a little but I'm not in a position where I can go and play a game at full intensity."

His name was also absent from Spain’s ATP Cup tie on Friday against Greece at Melbourne Park’s John Cain Arena, with Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta to lead the challenge in the singles matches for last year’s finalists, who beat the hosts 3-0.

Nadal, however, practised for an hour on Thursday evening at the Rod Laver Arena and his fitness was improving “little by little, step by step”, a source close to him told Reuters.

Nadal sits level with Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles and, with the 39-year-old Swiss not taking part in Melbourne after knee surgery, the Spaniard would have the chance to become the all-time Major record holder in the men's game for the first time.

He insisted, however, that that was not something he was focused on.

"First thing's first, and that's to play the Australian Open, and if that doesn't go well, the season goes on," he said.

"I've never been obsessed with Grand Slams, truth be told."

Meanwhile, it was decided that women will play shorter matches at the Australian Open tune-ups from Friday owing to a logjam in fixtures, after Thursday's play was cancelled on news a quarantine hotel worker was infected with the coronavirus.

Thursday's matches at the six events ahead of the Feb 8-21 Grand Slam were cancelled after a worker at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which was used to quarantine players and their entourages, tested positive for the virus.

That left organisers Tennis Australia (TA) with just three days to complete the matches before the year's first Major starts at the same venue on Monday.

"All WTA singles matches from Friday on will be a best of two regular tiebreak sets with a 10-point match tiebreak if required for a final set," TA said in the fixtures released for Friday's order of play.

The men's tournaments will continue to be held in its existing best-of-three sets formats, with a tiebreak at 6-6 in the final set.

Over 500 people, including 160 players, connected to the Australian Open were considered "casual contacts" of the hotel worker and asked to undergo coronavirus tests, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said at a press conference late on Wednesday. They are in isolation until they receive their test results.

Australian Open chief Craig Tiley told reporters on Thursday that the Grand Slam will begin as scheduled on Monday.