He’s now the wrong side of 30 and barely inside the world’s top 10, but Rafael Nadal remains convinced he’s still an Australian Open force.
Australia has never been the happiest stomping ground for Nadal, who has collected just one of his 14 grand slam titles at Melbourne Park.
The Spaniard returns this year having played just three ATP events since the US Open after a wrist injury curtailed the king of clay’s quest for a 10th crown at Roland Garros and then wiped him out of Wimbledon.
But while others may doubt him, Nadal continues to believe he can challenge world No.1 Andy Murray and six-times Open champion Novak Djokovic for Open glory.
“If I believed that if could not have this chance during this next 11 months, I would be home fishing,” Nadal said on Monday.
“My real goal is to try to compete for the important things and to compete for the important things I know I have I want to try to beat these guys.
“If I am working hard and I have the motivation and passion to keep going, I feel that if I am happy and I can work the way I want to be, I can be.”
The 2009 Melbourne Park winner and 2014 runner-up admitted last season was tough and that he’d be lying if he claimed to be at 100 per cent fitness heading into the summer slam.
“It’s not easy to come back that quick and it’s not enough to say playing six matches in two weeks that I am back to my full fitness moment,” said Nadal, who also insisted a first-round exit last year wasn’t cause for any added motivation.
“I feel that Melbourne is an opportunity to play well again and to have positive feelings and then anything can happen if I start to feel good and competitive.
“I love playing in Melbourne. It’s an unbelievable event.
“I’m very excited to come back. Last year was a tough year and I just hope to change things this year and play better again.”
Nadal tuned up for the Open with a quarter-final run in Brisbane, where he lost to Milos Raonic, and was set to play the Fast4 exhibition event in Sydney on Monday night.