Rafael Nadal loses at Kooyong but passes Australian Open fitness test


Rafael Nadal confirmed himself a certain Australian Open starter after making a rusty return to the court at the Kooyong Classic.

The world No.1 played just his second match in almost three months, losing to veteran Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-4 7-5 in their exhibition outing in Melbourne on Tuesday, but he looked to be moving freely on his troublesome knee.

“It was a good test for me and good practice,” Nadal said.

“I’m good and I am here so that’s good news, and my idea is just to keep practising the next couple of days to be ready for the beginning of the Australian Open.”

Nadal hadn’t played since withdrawing from the ATP Tour Finals in mid-November after an opening three-set loss to David Goffin.

He was far from his best against world No. 31 Gasquet, but it was a big step forward as he targets a second Australian Open title.

Nadal trailed Gasquet 3-0 in the second set after going down a double break but clawed his way back to lead 5-4 only to lose his serve again.

His forehand was particularly erratic in the swirling wind at Kooyong. Tournament officials hastily organised the practice match for Nadal after he withdrew from last week’s Brisbane International saying he was underdone.

“It was a long year last year so I started my preparation a little bit later than usual,” Nadal said.

“It’s good to start having the feelings of playing a match even if it’s not official.”

Nadal, who lost the Open final in five sets to Roger Federer last year, will round out his preparation in the Tie Break Tens in Melbourne on Wednesday night, alongside Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios.

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