Nadal: 'I Need Battles Like This'
While he will not leave the inaugural United Cup with a title for Team Spain, Rafael Nadal can take away the experience of two titanic tussles in Sydney as he looks to recapture his top form. The 36-year-old lost a pair of three-setters at the United Cup, to Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur, as Spain were eliminated from the mixed-gender event in the group stage.
It's a very different start to the season compared to 2022, when Nadal won a personal-best 20 straight matches to open the year, including two titles Down Under at the Melbourne Summer Set and the Australian Open. But despite his 0-2 record, Nadal was happy to compete for nearly six hours across the contests, both of which he lost from a set up.
"I need hours on court. I need battles like this," he said in a post-match press conference. "I didn't play many official matches the last six months, almost seven.
"Days like these two help. Of course with victories the process is faster, but I need to keep fighting. That's it. For moments I played very good level of tennis. Playing very good with the backhand. Changing directions with the forehand."
While he rued missed chances and "important mistakes" against Australia's De Minaur, Nadal still found plenty of positives from his United Cup experience — not least the unique opportunity to play alongside some of the WTA's best, including teammate Paula Badosa
"I have two weeks before the Australian Open starts," he continued. "I can't say that the situation is ideal, but at the same time, I can't say that it's very negative, because for moments I was playing good. I think that two matches is going to help me. I need to win couple of matches. But the level was not that bad, putting in perspective that I arrived needing a little bit more time.
"I'm going to try hard these two weeks to be physically better," he later added. "In terms of tennis, probably playing sets and practising for the next two weeks with good guys, I think that can help me to be more consistent. That's what I'm going to look for. It's just the beginning, and honestly, I am not too alarmed, too negative about what happened. I think there was a real chance to lose these kind of matches... I had my chance against two great players, not able to convert it. That says that I have an important room to improve, and I really believe that I can do it. I was very close to win against two great players."
While Nadal's singles work is done in Sydney, Team Spain still has one more day of play on Tuesday. The World No. 2 plans to do some sight-seeing on Wednesday before heading to Melbourne to begin his Australian Open preparations in earnest.