Nadal fine on court days after pullout

SYDNEY • Injury-plagued world No. 2 Rafael Nadal insists he is healthy and in no pain after coming through an exhibition match in Sydney, just days after pulling out of the Brisbane International.

The Spaniard teamed up with Canadian Milos Raonic to defeat Australians Nick Kyrgios and John Millman 4-1, 1-4, 5-4 in the Fast4 Showdown on Monday evening, a shortened, quicker format of the game often described as the tennis equivalent of Twenty20 cricket.

Nadal said that he was “feeling better” after withdrawing from Brisbane, when an MRI scan revealed a slight strain of his left thigh, casting doubts over his fitness for next week’s Australian Open.

“I did not feel the pain here,” the 17-time Grand Slam champion said.

“It was a good start for me, a good comeback to the action in front of a fantastic crowd in Sydney.

“I really enjoyed playing here. I’m happy to be back on court and happy that I’m healthy again.”

He has not played a main tour event since a knee problem forced him to retire during his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September.

The 32-year-old had surgery on his ankle in November to remove a loose intra-articular body and resumed training only a month ago.

He played the opening round at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi to start his season, where he lost to South African Kevin Anderson, and had a first-round bye in Brisbane before withdrawing.

Asked if he considered himself a genuine title contender in Melbourne despite his injury problems, he replied: “Why not? You can’t predict that. Of course it would be better if I had the chance to play a full tournament in Abu Dhabi and a full tournament in Brisbane, but the big importance is I am feeling good with the ball.”

He will now head to Melbourne, where he was the champion in 2009, to get in as much practice as possible before the opening Grand Slam of the year begins on Monday.

At the Sydney International, world No. 5 Sloane Stephens battled back from the brink of a shock loss to a qualifier yesterday to join two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the second round.

The American was twice two points away from losing to 72nd-ranked Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, but somehow rallied to win 0-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-3).

Earlier, Kvitova avenged her US Open loss to in-form Aryna Sabalenka by beating the Belarusian 6-1, 7-5. But there was no such joy for 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, who lost 6-3, 6-3 to Australia’s Ashleigh Barty.


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