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Nadal trying to be realistic ahead of first tournament in a year at Brisbane

Rafael Nadal Rafael Nadal - The Canadian Press

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal is not putting a lot of pressure on himself ahead of his first tournament in more than a year.

The 37-year-old Spanish lefthander is set to return at the Brisbane International next week after almost a year out with a hip injury. The 22-time Grand Slam singles champion’s last match was a second-round loss at the Australian Open in January, and Nadal eventually decided to have surgery on his troublesome hip in June.

Thousands queued for a glimpse of Nadal on Friday at a fan appearance in downtown Brisbane when Nadal was keen to play down the prospect of a title in the Queensland state capital — or a third Australian Open crown beginning Jan. 14 in Melbourne.

“It’s impossible to think about winning tournaments today,” he said. "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 mention his Melbourne Park wins when prompted, two against-the-odds titles won in 2009 and 2022 that set aside the current world No. 672’s low expectations.

In 2009 he outlasted countryman Fernando Verdasco over five hours in the semifinal before beating Roger Federer two days later in a four-hour final. 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,” he said of how he won that 2009 title. “Before the match it was impossible to imagine myself winning that match.”

Nadal has said 2024 is “probably going to be my last year on the professional tour."

But he said he was 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,” he 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."

No. 8-ranked Holger Rune is the highest-ranked player in the 32-man Brisbane field, while Andy Murray, Ben Shelton, Grigor Dimitrov and Sebastian Korda headline the other internationals.

Former No. 1 and new mom Naomi Osaka is in the women's field and will will make her WTA comeback at the tournament. A two-time Australian Open and U.S. Open champion, Osaka pulled out of last year's Australian Open in Melbourne before later revealing she was pregnant.

The U.S.-based Japanese player and her American rapper boyfriend Cordae became parents to daughter Shai in Los Angeles in July. On Friday she made a fan appearance at a Brisbane koala park.

Reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina, Jelena Ostapenko, Victoria Azarenka, Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens are also in the 54-player women's draw.


AP tennis: