PARIS, Dec 3 — Almost a year after his last match, former world number one Rafael Nadal will return to the courts in Brisbane next month ahead of the Australian Open for what is likely to be his final season.

“Hello everyone, after a year away from competition, it’s time to come back. It will be in Brisbane the first week of January. I’ll see you there,” the 22-time Grand Slam winner said in a post on social media.

Nadal has not played since his defeat in the second round of the Australian Open last January as he struggled with a hip injury during the tournament he won in 2009 and 2022.

“I think I don’t deserve to end like this,” said Nadal, 37, of his Melbourne exit.

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The Spaniard has undergone surgery twice since and having slumped to 663rd in the world declared in September that the 2024 season would probably be his last.

He has been overtaken in the number of Grand Slam tournaments won by Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic, who now has 24 major titles.

Nadal had already experienced a 2021 season undermined by a foot injury, and was eliminated by Djokovic in the semi-final of the French Open.

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“I won’t win more Grand Slams than Djokovic, but I will have the chance to enjoy myself again,” Nadal said last month.

“I think that Novak lives it in a more intense way than I have lived it. For him, it would have been a greater frustration not to achieve it (Grand Slams) and maybe that’s why he achieved.”

Nadal will try to return to the highest level in Australia with the aim of competing at the French Open which he has won a record 14 times.

“My hope is not to return to win Roland Garros or win (in) Australia, so that people are not confused, all that is a long way off,” Nadal said in September.

“I am well aware of the difficulties that I face, one is insurmountable, that is age, and the other are physical problems.

“What makes me hopeful is to play again, to be competitive again.”

Beyond the quest for trophies, Nadal will above all seek to experience a season without injuries, which have been recurring in recent years.

“We know that the pain will never disappear, but I’ve taken a step forward,” he said two weeks ago.

“Until now, I didn’t know if I could play tennis again one day, and now I sincerely think that will be the case.”

Nadal, who has won 92 titles, should experience an intense final season, with the Grand Slams and the Olympic Games, where he won singles gold in Beijing in 2008 and doubles gold in Rio in 2016.

“I haven’t played for a year,” said the Spaniard.

“Personal success is often more rewarding than general success. The hope is that I’ll play again. You never know what will happen.

“My gut says it will be very difficult to get back to a good level of tennis. If I wasn’t hopeful of trying to be competitive, I wouldn’t be doing everything I’ve done over the past months at my age and after a long career,” he added.

“The years pass by. My hope is that I will play again, and that is hugely satisfying to me on a personal level.” — AFP