Nadal Still Finding Firsts In 2018
At 31 years old with 75 tour-level titles and 162 weeks atop the ATP Rankings, one would think there wouldn’t be any more firsts for Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard arrives at the Australian Open this year with the hopes of going one step further than the dramatic five-set final he played against longtime rival Roger Federer last year, which catalysed a year of unexpected success for the both of them. He aims to become one of just three players after Roy Emerson and Rod Laver to win each of the Grand Slams twice, furthering his already remarkable legacy in the sport. But this year, things are a little different.
“It's the first time I am here without playing [an] official match in my career. It's is a new situation for me,” said Nadal, who didn't play an event prior to the season's first Grand Slam.
“We decided to start later because we needed some more practice, start slow, to be fresher, little bit more fresh mentally and physically, and do things the right way. That's what we tried to do.”
Nadal’s exceptional 2017 season, in which he posted a 67-11 win-loss record and claimed six titles to reclaim the No.1 ranking, ended with a Nitto ATP Finals defeat to an inspired David Goffin at the round-robin stage. Although 2018 is the first year he hasn’t played before arriving in Melbourne, Nadal took the opportunity to set up a high-intensity practice match on Margaret Court Arena with Dominic Thiem.
“We decided to play another match. Talking with the Australian Open, yeah, they give us the chance to play like an open practice but closer to the match for the crowd,” said the Spaniard.
“I have a good relationship with Dominic. I spoke to him about that. He was very happy to make that happen, too. We did it. It was a good practice, good feelings for both of us I think. The job was done the right way.”
Another first for Nadal, who is seeded first at this year’s event, is that he arrives Down Under without his uncle Toni Nadal as his official coach.
“It's my first tournament that he is not my official coach. But I played plenty of tournaments in my career without Toni,” said Nadal.
“[It] is a change in my career, but let's wait a little bit... [to see] if I feel strange in a few months, but now is just the beginning,” he added. “I feel happy with my team. Toni gave me a lot during all my career, as I said thousands of times. I don't think it's necessary to repeat again and again. Without Toni, I probably won't be here today. That's the real thing. I can't thank him enough for everything.
“I'm happy with the way that I am working with Carlos [Moya], with Francis [Roig], with the rest of my team. Let's keep working hard to try to have a good year.”