Rafael Nadal lifts lid on worrying back injury after Australian Open first round win

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Rafael Nadal defied his gloomy injury prognosis and complete lack of match practice to crush Laslo Djere 6-3 6-4 6-1 on Tuesday and reach the Australian Open second round as he launched his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

The Spanish great had pulled out of his nation’s ATP Cup campaign with a back problem and on the eve on the Grand Slam he said the injury was still affecting him.

Yet he was close to his all-action, fist-pumping best as he bounced around a sun-bathed Rod Laver Arena in the final set against Djere.

He painted the lines with trademark top-spin bombs but afterwards admitted he just needs to hope he can come through unscathed.

Nadal said in his on-court interview: “It has been a tough 15 days for me because I had some issues with the back so I needed to survive today and that’s what I did.

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“I just tried to be focused all the time, tried to get through. I think I did a good job today. Straight sets, that’s what I needed.

“Let’s go day by day. Today I was able to find a way to be through.

“That gives me the chance to have one more day tomorrow so it’s a work of every day to try to get ready.

“Of course it was not ideal preparation for me but I’m still alive. That’s the main thing.”

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Sharing the all-time Grand Slam title record with Roger Federer, Nadal has not been able to add to his 2009 championship at Melbourne Park, despite four trips to the final.

A string of injuries have hurt his chances in through the years, which three-times Australian Open champion Mats Wilander put down to the relative punishment of honing his high-energy game on hardcourts in the off-season.

“It could be a combination of hard courts and practising, needs more repetition and pushes himself hard,” the Eurosport pundit said.

“This is Rafa Nadal, this is what he has done throughout his whole career and he is going to push himself to the limit.”

Nadal said he hoped to last as long as he could in Australia, where people have regained most of their pre-pandemic freedom after containing COVID-19.

Nadal had “no parties for one year already”, at home in Spain.

He explained: “Here (people) are in a different situation. They are able to stay together. They are able to go out and have fun and be a lot of people together in one place, so it’s a different story than what we are facing.

“We dream about being back to that situation.”

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