Rafael Nadal on his 2018 season: You can't say this is not a good year, it is a great year
Despite injuries hitting his schedule the world No 2 still proud of a year that saw another French Open title won
Rafael Nadal sat quietly for a few seconds in the news conference room at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) on Friday night, thinking about the question that had just been put to him.
The world No 2 had just confirmed that he had competed in his last match of 2018 after being beaten in his semi-final at the tournament at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi by Kevin Anderson.
He had been asked by The National that now that the year was coming to and end how he thought he would remember and view the past 12 months in his own mind.
"In terms of tennis it was an amazing year," the 32 year old said. "Seven full events and winning five is great."
The key word in the last sentence was seven. Nadal's fragile body meant he was sidelined for much of the year.
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He did not play in February or March and Friday's three-set loss to Anderson was his first time on court in a public match since he had to retire hurt against Juan Manuel del Potro in the semi-finals of the US Open in September due to knee problems.
Nadal only played 49 ATP Tour matches during the year, compared to 78 in 2017. It was his lowest amount since 2012, and that partly explains why he lost the world No 1 position in which he started the year to Novak Djokovic.
"In terms of just tennis it was great, but having to retire from one semi-final and one quarter-finals at grand slam that is tough," he added, referring also to the Australian Open in January where he had to stop in the fifth set of his last-eight encounter with Marin Cilic, which was due to an issue with his hip.
"That is tough mentally that is something that isn't easy to accept."
But, when Nadal was on court he was formidable. He only lost twice all year in completed matches, to Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open in May, and then to Djokovic in the semi-finals at Wimbledon.
He won an 11th French Open title in June to take his major tally up to 17. There were also victories at Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo, Rome and Toronto, as well as a 500 tournament in Barcelona.
So despite the injuries Nadal is in no doubt about how he will remember 2018 when he looks back on it.
"I won a grand slam and reached two grand slam finals. You also win three Masters 1000s so you can't say this is not a good year, it is a great year," he said.
It was with an eye to avoiding the problems of this year that led to Nadal withdrawing from the rest of the MWTC after his defeat to Anderson, meaning his scheduled play-off for third place with Karen Khachanov on Saturday was cancelled.
His match with Anderson, which lasted for eight minutes shy of two hours, proved to be an extensive workout before he went down 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
In his time away since September he had treatment on his knees, an abdominal injury, and then a minor operation on his right ankle.
“When you are out since long time ago, I had the surgery a little over a month ago, it’s normal that I have some pains," he said.
"Being honest, I’m satisfied the way I was playing tennis. I am more or less satisfied with how the body held.”
Nadal conceded just competing in Abu Dhabi again, an event he has won four times, was a victory given where he had been physically only a few weeks earlier. The fact he had missed the MWTC in 2017 also played on his mind.
"The season just started for me," he added. "It was a goal to be here, I tried hard to be here after surgery not too long ago. I was not sure if I will have the chance to start the season, and I did. Last year I missed this event, last moment, I didn’t want to miss it again."
The decision to rest his body is firmly with an eye on the Australian Open, the first major of 2019, which starts on January 14 where he will bid to win the event for a second time, 10 years after his lone success to date in Melbourne.
“I suffered a lot in terms of injury," he said. "I don’t want to suffer more. I want to make the things the right way, step by step and that’s it.
"My goal is try to be ready for the Australian Open and I think I’m on the way to make that happen but of course I can’t take a lot of risk being the first match after a lot of months and especially after the surgery.”
Updated: December 29, 2018 03:50 PM