Jan 19, 2015

    Nadal 'not ready' for Australian Open


    RAFAEL Nadal says he's working "big time" to get back to his best after an injury-blighted season, but admits to being a long shot at the Australian Open.

    The 14-time Grand Slam winner, seeded third at Melbourne Park, missed the end of last year due to appendicitis and has been hit by back and wrist injuries.

    He faces a tough first-up opponent in Russian Mikhail Youzhny and is not confident of going the distance at the opening Grand Slam of the year.

    "I don't consider myself one of the favourites here," he said. "Last year, yes. This year is a different story. I would be lying if I said I feel that I am ready to win today. I don't feel myself ready to win the tournament here today."

    Nadal's biggest problem, apart from needing to recover physically and mentally after an appendectomy, is that he has played very few matches since Wimbledon back in July.

    His lack of match fitness was plain to see in Qatar this month, when he was humiliated in the first round by 34-year-old Michael Berrer, a qualifier ranked outside the top 100.

    Nadals admits he needs more time on court. "It is a question of time and work, and I am working big time," he said. "In theory, playing four, five matches in seven months, you cannot be a favourite of a tournament that is not clay, is on hard (court).

    "But I am doing lots of practice and doing the things that I believe I have to do to recover my level."

    Despite injuries that have plagued his career, the Spaniard still managed to win Roland Garros for the ninth time in 10 years in 2014. He also won the Madrid Masters, events in Doha and Rio, and reached the Australian Open final, where he lost to Swiss Stan Wawrinka.

    With his more recent form and fitness lacking, Nadal nominated archrivals Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray as the clear favourites in Melbourne.

    "I think everybody thinks the same names," he said. "We'll see. There are a few more players who are always going to have the chance. But between these three names, it's a big chance."