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Nadal ready despite lack of Aussie Open lead-up

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Top seed Rafael Nadal starts the Australian Open next week for the first time in his career without playing a warm-up tournament, and no uncle Toni by his side.

But the Spanish star said Saturday he feels good and his motivation remains strong.

Nadal, who is gunning for a 17th major title but only his second Australian Open crown, was hampered by a knee injury at the tail-end of the 2017 season.

It forced him to skip the lead-up Brisbane International this month, and he has only had a one-match workout at the exhibition Kooyong Classic in Melbourne ahead of the Grand Slam starting Monday.

Yet he is unfazed and raring to go as seeks to go one better than last year when he lost an epic Melbourne Park final to Roger Federer.

“Is the first time I am here without playing an official match in my career. It’s a new situation for me. But I feel good,” said the 31-year-old, who played his first Australian Open in 2004.

“I feel that I had a good week-and-a-half of practices. I really hope to be ready. I feel myself more or less playing well.”

With so few matches under his belt ahead of the season-opening Grand Slam, he asked organisers if they could do him a special favour, and they obliged.

It saw Nadal play Austrian world number five Dominic Thiem this week on a practice court under full match conditions, with ball kids, scoreboard, and umpire.

“I wanted to play a couple of close competition matches. I played in Kooyong once. The club in Kooyong is great, but at the same time the conditions of play are completely different from here,” he explained.

“That’s my feeling. We decided to play another match. Talking with the Australian Open, yeah, they gave us the chance to play like an open practice but closer to the match for the crowd.

“We did it. It was a good practice, good feelings for both of us I think. The job was done the right way.”

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