An emotional Rafael Nadal admitted he had doubts “every single day” about whether he would ever play again during his latest injury nightmare.
Nadal overcame big-hitter Karen Khachanov 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-1 to reach the Australian Open last 16 on Friday before opening up about the extent of his persistent foot injury.
The Spaniard had not played a competitive tournament in five months prior to touching down in Melbourne for the opening Grand Slam of 2022.
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The chronic problem in his left foot ruled him out of Wimbledon, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and US Open. He said it got so bad that there were days he could only practise for 20 minutes.
When asked by Eurosport presenter Alize Lim whether he had doubts about whether he would ever return, Nadal replied: “Every single day. That’s true.
“For a lot of months sometimes I went on court and was not able to practise more than 20 minutes, on other days for 45. And then sometimes I was able to practise for two hours.
“It’s been very difficult to predict every single day and I was working with a doctor to try and find a solution. I tried different things but it’s tough.”
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Nadal said the uncertainty surrounding the injury made it much tougher to deal with mentally.
“Even if I went through that process a couple of times in my career, I always say the same: the injuries are much easier to accept when you know you have a calendar [for your recovery],” he continued.
“If you twist your ankle or break your wrist, as a I did a couple of times in my career, then you know it’ll be three months. So you have an agenda and every week you do a different thing.
“But with the foot injury, honestly it’s much tougher because you go every day to the gym, on the court, and without an improvement.
“And that is mentally much tougher. I’m very satisfied the way that I approach it. I hold the passion, the work and the spirit and that’s probably why I’m here. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future but I’m enjoying every single day.”
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'Nights like today mean everything'
Nadal was also emotional on court after seeing off Russian Khachanov, who had forced his way back into the match by taking the third set.
"It is a very special week for me, every time I am able to play here is a very special thing," he said in his on-court interview.
"I played against a great player and a good friend on tour, it has been my best match since I came back."
He added: "I have been going through some very tough times the last year and a half but for me nights like today mean everything, that is a lot of energy in my pocket to keep going.
"I am super happy, thank you very much everybody."
Nadal is bidding to win a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title. He currently sits joint of the all-time charts alongside world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who was deported on the eve of the tournament, and Roger Federer.
Highlights: Nadal recovers from third-set blip to beat Khachanov
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