As Rafael Nadal prepares for his long-awaited return to the tennis court in Brisbane, he’ll have the support of his new No.1 fan in the stands.
The 37-year-old has been drawn to face a qualifier at the Brisbane International in what will be his first match after nearly a year with a hip injury.
Nadal practised with fellow veteran Andy Murray on Saturday and showed no sign of the injury that ruined his 2023 campaign.
Watch the latest sport on Channel 7 or stream for free on 7plus >>
Watching on in the stands were Nadal’s wife Maria Perello and their one-year-old son, Rafael jnr.
The couple welcomed their first child into the world in October last year, but have largely kept him out of the public eye.
However, the family are all together in Australia for what could be Nadal’s final time here.
Adorable pictures emerged of Rafael jnr wearing a white polo shirt and holding a tiny tennis racquet as he watched his dad train.
Rafael jnr pictured holding a tennis racquet. Credit: AAPKeeping a close eye on dad. Credit: AAPThe family are all together for what could be Nadal’s farewell tour. Credit: AAP
Nadal has tried to play down his “impossible” Australian Open title hopes in what shapes as the first stop on his 2024 farewell world tour.
The 22-time major champion’s last match was a round-two loss at the Australian Open in January this year, with Nadal eventually opting for surgery to fix his troublesome hip in June.
Thousands of fans queued for a glimpse of the tennis great at a public appearance in Brisbane on Friday, when a cheery Nadal was keen to water down the prospect of a title in the city – or a third Australian Open crown next month.
“It’s impossible to think about winning tournaments today,” he said when told Australian world No.40 Alexei Popyrin had tipped him to win the Brisbane event.
“What’s really possible is to enjoy the comeback. I don’t expect much; one year without being on the court.”
But he was quick to recall his Melbourne Park triumphs when prompted, two against-the-odds titles won in 2009 and 2022 that debunk the current world No.672’s low expectations.
In 2009 he outlasted countryman Fernando Verdasco over five hours in the semi-final, before going the distance two days later in a four-hour epic to beat Roger Federer.
Thirteen years later, after six months sidelined with a foot injury, he came from two sets behind to beat Daniil Medvedev in the final.
“I still don’t know,” Nadal said of how he won that 2009 title.
“Before the match it was impossible to imagine myself winning that match.”
Nadal, who missed last year’s French Open after winning it for a staggering 14th time a year earlier, has said 2024 is “probably going to be my last year on the professional tour”.
But he is encouraged by his fitness, confessing he feels “much better than what I expected a month ago”.
“I can’t have super long-term goals because I don’t see myself playing a super long time,” Nadal said on Friday.
“I don’t know how things are going to keep going.
“I’m not a player who tries to predict what can happen in the short term, and it’s even tougher in the medium period of time.
“I need to accept the adversity and that it’s not going to be perfect, just come with the right spirit every day.”
– With AAP