Rafael Nadal: Tennis Star Must Play Kooyong to Prepare for Australian Open

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28:  Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during his Gentlemen's Singles second round match against Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic on day four of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 28, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal made the right choice, waiting until he was completely healthy to take to the tennis courts again.

Holding yourself back from world-class competition can't be easy, but it will allow him to play up to his standards immediately. Despite being out of commission since June 28th, expect Nadal to play at an elite level in next month's Kooyong Classic in Melbourne, if he decides to play.

According to The Australian reporter Courtney Walsh, the tournament has an open spot should Nadal decide to enter:

Rafael Nadal may well opt for an extended stint in Melbourne in January as he plans how best to return to the circuit from a knee injury.

That, at least, is the hope of organisers of the Kooyong Classic, who have left open a spot in the eight-man field should the Spaniard seek a route that guarantees at least three singles in the week before the Australian Open.

Pushing himself to return, up to this point, would have been a bad idea.

But this is different.

Playing at the Australian Open's former venue will only benefit Rafa, especially because, according to tournament director Colin Stubs, the group has "yet to secure any of the top-four-ranked men." Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are mentioned possibilities, but they're both up in the air.

Nadal doesn't need to face top competition to prepare. He's played enough of that throughout his career. For him, it's all about getting out there. Just moving around is enough. Getting himself back in shape is the only concern he needs to have.

Rafa has won the Australian Open once, in 2009. It was the only Grand Slam he won that year, and he's not the player he once was.

He's going to be a step slower, at least at first. Beating up on a few "lesser" opponents would build his confidence and give him a chance to play competitively with very little pressure.

It's better to do that now, before it's time to play the Australian Open—where the pressure will definitely be there.

Nadal has played Federer and Djokovic enough to know what to expect from them, but he may not know what to expect from himself. Playing in a smaller tournament, even if he's the only top player, is necessary because it would give him a chance to test his ability to play at a high level again.