BRISBANE: Spanish great Rafael Nadal will be hoping the season-opening Brisbane International gives him the chance to kick-start his career following an injury-plagued 2016.
The 30-year-old has won 14 Grand Slam singles titles in a glittering career, the last coming at the French Open in 2014.
But his 2016 campaign was ruined by a wrist injury that forced him out of Roland Garros after the second round and saw him miss Wimbledon.
He then lost to Frenchman Lucas Pouille in the fourth round of the US Open and slipped to number nine in the world rankings at year end.
But the Spaniard says he is fit again and insists he can still challenge for a Grand Slam title.
“My idea is to stay here for a few more years and I feel enough motivation to be here,” Nadal said after beating Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-0, 6-4 at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.
“I believe that I can compete for important things in the next three years.”
Nadal will be making his first appearance at the Brisbane International, a major lead-up tournament to the Australian Open, and one that boasts a high-class field.
“I’m ready to play in Brisbane -– I hope to be 100 per cent ready to play at a good level,” he said.
“I feel I’m healthy enough, and I’m very excited to be coming to Brisbane for the first time in my life. I’m working hard enough to be competitive. That’s my main thing, to be competitive.
“I need a little luck at the beginning and to play matches, because I haven’t played much for the last four months.”
Nadal will be the fifth seed in Brisbane, behind world number three and defending champion Milos Raonic of Canada, Switzerland’s three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka, Japan’s Kei Nishikori and rising Austrian star Dominic Thiem.
The top eight seeds are rounded out by Nadal’s fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, and French duo Pouille and Gilles Simon.
The women’s draw is headed by Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who won the Australian and US Opens in 2016 and finished runner-up at Wimbledon on her way to taking over from Serena Williams as world number one.
Kerber began her 2016 season in Brisbane where she reached the final, going down to Victoria Azarenka.
“It is the best way to start the summer of tennis in Australia,” Kerber said.
“For me, Brisbane kick-started the best season of my career this year.
“You have to play tournaments that will prepare you for the big moments, which for me, was winning the Australian Open and going on to be the number one player in the world.”
Dominika Cibulkova is seeded second and will head into the tournament full of confidence after beating Kerber to win the WTA Finals in Singapore in late October, the biggest win of the Slovakian’s career.
The Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova is third seed while Spain’s 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza is fourth.
The tournament begins at the Queensland Tennis Centre on New Year’s Day.