Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

Australian Open: Rafael Nadal driven by 'passion' as Simona Halep wants to win title 'badly'

Men's top seed begins his bid for a second title on Tuesday, while the women's 2018 finalist is determined to go one better this year

Rafael Nadal takes part in a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. AP Photo
Rafael Nadal takes part in a practice session ahead of the Australian Open. AP Photo

Rafael Nadal has said "passion and love for the game" has kept him going during the darker moments of his career as the Australian Open top seed begins his bid to win the title at Melbourne Park for a second time.

Nadal, 33, has enjoyed a long and illustrious career, comprising 84 titles while victory at the Australian Open this year will move him level with Roger Federer's haul of 20 grand slams.

However, in the 11 years since his 2009 triumph in Melbourne, Nadal has battled back from a litany of serious injuries, defying predictions that his taxing, all-action game might cut his career short.

He now has a chance to hold three out of the four grand slam titles after winning the French and US Opens last year.

"Well, I can't say I have been lucky with injuries, because I have not," he told reporters at Melbourne Park on Saturday. "But there is no secret. There is only passion, love for the game, and being able to stay positive in the tough moments.

"It's true that I went through some tough situations during my career. But I was able to always, with probably the positive attitude and with the right people around, to find a way to keep going.

"[It's] something that is difficult to imagine for me because of my style of game, as a lot of people said, my career should be little bit shorter.

"But here we are. [I'm] happy for that. Even for me is a big surprise to be where I am at my age."

Nadal, the only player to claim the world No 1 spot in three different decades, plays unseeded Bolivian Hugo Dellien in the first round on Tuesday.

Simona Halep of Romania practices ahead of the Australian Open. Getty Images
Simona Halep of Romania practices ahead of the Australian Open. Getty Images

In the women's draw, fourth seed Simona Halep has admitted she wants to win the Australian Open "badly" after her heartbreaking defeat in the 2018 final to Caroline Wozniacki.

In one of the most gruelling grand slam finals of recent years, Halep went down 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 to Wozniacki as the Romanian battled through injury and exhaustion before falling just short.

Fueled by the defeat, Halep went on to win the next grand slam of that season at the French Open, before doubling her major tally last season with a remarkable run to the Wimbledon title, which included a masterclass against Serena Williams in the final.

"I want it badly, but it's very difficult," Halep said. "Also the heat sometimes, sometimes it's cold. The changes are not easy for me to adjust. The very humid atmosphere when I played the final, it was tough for me."

Second seed Karolina Pliskova has a tricky opener against France's Kristina Mladenovic, who beat Australian world No 1 Ashleigh Barty in the Fed Cup in November.

The Czech, however, is confident her fate will be in her own hands, and she enters the Australian Open in fine form after successfully defending her Brisbane International title in the build-up.

"I don't know actually in which form she is right now," Pliskova said. "I know it's going to be a lot about me. Even if she's playing great, I think I can still beat her.

"I know she can be dangerous. I'm sure it's going to be difficult. For sure not an easy round."

Updated: January 19, 2020 05:10 PM



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