Nadal facing Australian Open concerns after United Cup disappointment

Rafael Nadal discusses Australian Open victory in January

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Rafael Nadal’s preparations for the Australian Open have taken another hit after the Spaniard lost again in the men’s singles at the United Cup. The 36-year-old was defeated in three sets to Team Australia’s Alex de Minaur, condemning him to a second straight defeat after he was downed by Cameron Norrie on New Years’ Eve.

De Minaur delivered a memorable performance under the lights in Sydney on Monday, battling from a set down to beat Nadal 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 and give Team Australia a 1-0 lead over Team Spain in Group D. It was his first victory at the fourth time of asking in the pair’s head-to-head on the ATP Tour.

The result means that Team Spain can no longer qualify for the City Finals, with Great Britain advancing to the latter stages after beating Spain and Australia.

And there are fears within the Spanish press that Nadal can no longer produce his best tennis, with Eurosport reporter Fernando Murciego claiming there are “many doubts” about Nadal’s chances of success heading into the tournament.

Nadal tasted success Down Under last year, winning an ATP 250 title in Melbourne before lifting the Australian Open crown for only the second time following his maiden success in 2009. He overcame the challenge of Daniil Medvedev in a five-set thriller after a gruelling five hour, 24 minute marathon in the final at the Rod Laver Arena.

But there are concerns over the veteran star’s form in 2023 after making his return from an abdominal injury that wrecked his Wimbledon and US Open hopes.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner will also face a more difficult challenge to retain his title after Novak Djokovic was permitted to participate in this year’s tournament. The Serbian was denied entry to the country and deported following a Covid document saga, but the eight-time champion will make his return to Melbourne later this month.

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While Djokovic has been in inspired form over the past 12 months, Nadal is yet to win since the start of the new season and there have been questions regarding his immediate future in tennis given his age, injury record and recent birth of his first child.

And the Manacor-born star reacted with a tetchy response in the aftermath of his defeat to Norrie with reporters asking if he was considering retirement.

However, the two-time Australian Open winner was more composed and sought to allay fears about his surprise defeats by comparing his poor start in 2022 before claiming two Majors to add to his collection.

“I was very close to win against two great players. I am not too alarmed,” he told reporters. “I need to be a little bit faster on the court. Last year I had lost two matches in Abu Dhabi too.”

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