Rafael Nadal is always one of the leading favourites regardless of the tournament he enters. The Spaniard has earned that recognition by holding No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for more than 200 weeks, claiming 36 ATP Masters 1000 trophies and 22 Grand Slam titles.

But the 36-year-old arrives at the Australian Open in a slump, having lost six of his past seven matches. Does Nadal feel he is vulnerable at Melbourne Park?

“Of course. Yeah, without a doubt. I have been losing more than usual, so that’s part of the business,” Nadal said. “Just accept the situation. I think I am humble enough to accept that situation and just work with what I have today. I need to build again all this momentum. I need to build again this confidence with myself with victories. But it’s true that I have been losing more than usual.”

Nadal made no excuse for his current skid. But two of those losses were at the Nitto ATP Finals, and the lowest-ranked player he lost to was then-World No. 31 Tommy Paul at the Rolex Paris Masters.

“The real thing is I have been losing more than usual. Yeah, that’s the truth. I need to live with it and just fight for the victories,” Nadal said. “By the way, I didn’t play that bad the first two matches the year. I lost against two great opponents, but having very positive chances to win both matches. I already have been here for three weeks, practising every day with that conditions, with the best players. That helps a lot in general terms.”

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Nadal explained that he feels better about his game now than when he arrived in Australia. In his first event of the year at the United Cup, Nadal battled deep into a third set with two top players in Cameron Norrie and Alex de Minaur.

“I’m going to keep working because in the end I think I am in an improvement moment that I have been better and better every single week. I feel faster in the legs. I feel playing better with more confidence. The past three weeks of preparation here have been very positive from my point of view. Then I’m going to go on court and I’m going to try my best,” Nadal said. “I still hope that I can play a good Australian Open. But you don’t know what can happen. The first round going to be an important one against a very tough opponent.

“But I feel ready, honestly. The only thing that didn’t happen in my side is victories. That’s the real thing. But for the rest of the things that I am building to be ready for a tournament like this one, I feel quite ready.”

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More good news for Nadal is that he has good sensations at Melbourne Park. One year ago, he rallied from two sets down in the Australian Open final against Daniil Medvedev to break Roger Federer’s record for the most Grand Slam singles titles for a man in history.

“The sport goes fast. What happened last year is already past. But in sports, especially in a sport like tennis, people remember the victories at the end. People are going to remember that today I have 22 Grand Slams, not that I lost another 50,” Nadal said, cracking a smile. “What happened last year is going to stay in my heart and my memory forever. One of the most emotional victories of my tennis career, without a doubt. A lot of emotions coming back from a long injury.

“The love of the people, the atmosphere we lived here on Rod Laver Arena in that final, has been unforgettable for me.”

Nadal knows he must be sharp from the first ball of the tournament against Briton Jack Draper. The lefty, who reached the semi-finals this week at the Adelaide International 2, has shown no fear of the big occasion.

“Of course, probably one of the toughest first rounds possible, being seeded. Young, powerful, growing very, very fast on the ranking, playing well,” Nadal said. “Probably a big challenge for me at the beginning to start the tournament. Let’s see. I’m here to just give myself a chance. I know he’s playing well. He has a lot of positive things, and probably a great career in front.

“I hope to be ready to fight for that first round and let’s see what can happen.”

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