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Sunday, 29 January 2017 20:08 PM GMT
Nadal showing holds promise for future
Despite losing the Australian Open final to Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal was understandably upbeat about his future prospects. READ MORE

It is a mark of the mentality of Rafael Nadal that even in the immediate aftermath of a heart-breaking defeat by Roger Federer in the final of the Australian Open on Sunday night, he should turn his attention to his beloved clay, where he has no doubt he can do some serious damage in 2017. 

Nadal will doubtless wonder what might have been, when having led 3-1, he had a point for 4-2 only to be broken back by Federer, who then went on to win a dramatic final 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 for his record 18th Grand Slam title.

His coach, Carlos Moya, admitted that the fact that he had a day less to recover from his semi-final, and that he’d gone five sets in that match too, didn’t help him recover fully to cope with Federer.

But Nadal is an optimist and even as he admitted the disappointment of defeat, he was able to look forward to the rest of the year, particularly the clay-court season and the French Open, where he has won nine times.

“I just think that I am playing well,” he said.

“I just think that I worked hard to be where I am. I believe that playing like this, good things can happen. It can happen here in this surface, but especially can happen on clay.

“If I am able to play like this, to hold matches like I held the other day, and recover well as I recovered - but on clay I recover better than here - then the opponents don't get that many free points, and I am playing from the solid baseline.

"If I make that happen, I think I can keep having success in hard courts, but on clay it can be special.”

As he’d done against Grigor Dimitrov in the semi-finals, Nadal dug in, defending for his life, even when Federer threatened to over-run him at the start of the match.

Feeling a little tiredness in his legs – “I probably 'lacked' a bit of speed today" – Nadal worked his way into the match and as one player peaked, the other dipped, and the first four sets were shared.

Indeed, Nadal worked his way into the match that hit arguably the shot of the tournament, reaching to the very end of his grasp to produce a breathtaking, sliced forehand winner that even drew applause from Federer.

In the fifth, when he led 3-1, there can’t have been many people who felt he would lose, so strong has he been mentally throughout his career, but Federer came good and attacked throughout the set to edge a dramatic victory.

“Probably if he had taken that point for 4-2, things might have been different,” Moya told reporters.

“But he fought really hard, played really well. I think he can have a positive year.”

Nadal joked on court that he was used to recovering from injuries, but his own comeback after serious wrist trouble was almost as remarkable as that of Federer.

Wins over top players like Sascha Zverev, Gael Monfils, Milos Raonic and an inspired Dimitrov bode well for the future and the importance those victories have for his confidence should not be overstated.

“I am with big personal satisfaction,” he said. “I cannot say that I am sad. I wanted to win, yes, but I am not very sad. I did all the things that I could. I worked a lot during all these months. I keep working, and I competed well.

I enjoyed the competition. I won against the best players of the world, and I competed well against everybody. That's the most important thing for me, and that gives me confidence to keep playing, and that's what I going to try.”

On the court, at the trophy presentation, Federer said to Nadal: “Keep playing, Rafa, tennis needs you,” and one fan earlier shouted: “Don’t give up Rafa.

While his body is willing, there’s no danger of that.

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