Rafael Nadal labels Jack Draper clash ‘one of the toughest first rounds possible’

Rafael Nadal in action
A disappointed Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal admitted he is feeling vulnerable ahead of his first-round clash with Britain’s Jack Draper at the Australian Open.

The defending champion goes into the tournament on the worst run of form of his career having lost six of his last seven matches dating back to the US Open.

“Without a doubt. I have been losing more than usual, so that’s part of the business,” said Nadal when asked about his vulnerability.

“I think I am humble enough to accept that situation and just work with what I have today. I need to build again all this momentum. I need to build again this confidence with myself with victories.”

It is a measure of the esteem in which 21-year-old Draper is now held that it was considered something of a nightmare draw for Nadal, who is seeded number one in the absence of his injured compatriot Carlos Alcaraz.

The young Londoner climbed more than 200 places in the rankings last year and arrived in Melbourne following a run to the semi-finals of the Adelaide International.

Rafael Nadal said of his fellow left-hander: “It’s probably one of the toughest first rounds possible, being seeded. He’s young, powerful, growing very, very fast on the rankings, playing well.

“It’s a big challenge for me at the beginning to start the tournament. I’m here to just give myself a chance. I know he’s playing well. He has a lot of positive things, and probably a great career in front. I hope to be ready to fight for that first round and let’s see what can happen.”

Nadal need only look back 12 months for evidence of how quickly things can shift having gone from wondering whether a foot problem spelled the end of his career to winning the most remarkable pf his 22 grand slam titles.

“The sport goes fast,” he said. “What happened last year is already past. But in sports, especially in a sport like tennis, people remember the victories. People are going to remember that today I have 22 grand slams, not that I lost another 50.

“What happened last year is going to stay in my heart and my memory forever. One of the most emotional victories of my tennis career, without a doubt.

“The love of the people, the atmosphere we lived here on Rod Laver Arena in that final, have been unforgettable for me.”

Nadal began this year with two defeats at the ATP Cup against Draper’s countryman Cameron Norrie and Australian Alex De Minaur.

But he has been encouraged by his performances in practice, saying: “I think I am in an improvement moment, that I have been better and better every single week.

“I feel faster in the legs. I feel I’m playing better with more confidence. The last three weeks of preparation here have been very positive from my point of view.

“I feel ready, honestly. The only thing that didn’t happen on my side is victories.”

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