Nadal in race to get fit for the Australian Open
Rafael Nadal’s first tournament match since surgery last November ended in a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 defeat against German qualifier Michael Berrer in the first round of the Qatar Open on Tuesday. Nadal, the defending champion, had three break points on Berrer’s serve in the final game of the match, but couldn’t convert them to level for 5-5. The second-seeded Spaniard, who was broken in the first game of the third set, was clearly paying the price for a lack of matches in the second half of 2014. He was sidelined for three months with a right wrist injury after Wimbledon and then had an appendectomy in early November. It was 34-year-old Berrer’s first victory over a player ranked in the top five. The 127th-ranked Berrer had already announced that this is his final season on the tour.
Nadal has also suffered back and wrist injuries, which reduced his service speed greatly. And after the defeat he appeared to cast doubt on his ability to take part, let alone be a contender at the Australian Open, which begins in less than two weeks. “This is the third comeback of my career after injury, so we will see how it goes in a couple of months. I wanted to start well, but it was not the case today. I also want to play in the Australian Open, which is a tournament I like a lot. I now have to practise well and try to be ready, but I know it can happen that I will go there and lose. Perhaps I will win a couple of matches there, I don’t know.”
Berrer had taken only four games in four sets off Nadal in their previous two meetings, but recognised a career-greatest opportunity and in patches responded by raising his standards to new heights. He was also admirably frank in his assessment. “It’s one of the matches which will stay in my memory forever, but let’s be honest it was the first match for Rafa after injury,” he said. “In the first set it felt like the other matches against him. Then it became easy to attack because it was the only chance I had. It’s also my last season and I had nothing to lose, and I’m enjoying it here – so why not?”
In a sharp contrast to Nadal’s exit, top-ranked Novak Djokovic started his season with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Serbian countryman Dusan Lajovic. Djokovic’s first-round victory took 59 minutes. He put 72 percent of his first serves in play, and was successful on five of six break-point opportunities. The Serb is making his first appearance at the Doha tournament. Historically, he hasn’t played a sanctioned tournament in the first week of the year and he withdrew from the Abu Dhabi exhibition final last week with the flu, but showed no lingering signs of illness in the match against Lajovic.