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Rafael Nadal says he is confident of a strong, competitive 2016 season

830   //    01 Jan 2016, 21:37 IST
Rafael Nadal 2015
Nadal has had time off to practice since the ATP World Tour Finals, and has come into 2016 with confidence

Former World No. 1 Rafael Nadal is currently playing at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships in Abu Dhabi, an exhibition event, and finished the first day having beat his compatriot David Ferrer in three sets.

He spoke to reporters prior to his match against Ferrer, saying he would be “very competitive” in 2016.

He struggled with patchy form in the 2015 season, having not managed to progress past the quarter-finals of any Grand Slam this season. His top finishes at a slam came at the Australian Open, where he was toppled in the quarter-finals by 7th-ranked Tomas Berdych in straight sets, and at the US Open, where he went down similarly to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Perhaps Nadal’s most shocking result this year was his Round of 32 US Open exit. Facing old foe Fabio Fognini, whom he had dispatched in straight sets at the bet-at-home Championships in Germany, Nadal faltered and struggled, and after winning the first two sets appeared to lose his composure completely, with Fognini capitalising to progress to the quarter-finals.

The Spaniard appeared to find his footing in the latter half of the season, coming back to manage finals finishes at the China Open (where he eventually lost to Novak Djokovic) and the Swiss Indoors Basel, where he lost to friend and longtime rival Roger Federer.

Even his year-end results have been patchy, however. Drawn against World No. 4 Stan Wawrinka, who was in form for most of the season, Nadal managed to test the Swiss somewhat, but eventually crashed out of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. At the Shanghai Rolex Masters before this, he struggled against 15th-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who has not been in any special form this year, and should not otherwise have been a particularly difficult opponent for Nadal to take on.

His uncle and coach Toni Nadal recently said he believed that his nephew “had it in him” to win more Grand Slams. At 14, Nadal is 3 slams away from Federer’s tally of 17, and considering the form World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has been in, it is unlikely that he will grant either many chances at victory.

Returning to the circuit after a month off, Nadal revealed to assembled reporters at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships that he had been practicing in his hometown of Mallorca over the winter break. “The off season has been great. In Mallorca we had unbelievable weather and we were able to practise as much as we wanted,” he said.

Despite his losses, Nadal told reporters he had ended the year on a positive note, and looked to carry that optimism into the new season.

He told reporters, “I had the chance to enjoy it. I’m happy for everything. I feel that I worked well enough, I finished the 2015 season with good feelings and I just keep practising with these positive feelings. I’m excited to start another new season. I feel myself well and I hope to be ready for what’s coming.”

Nadal also rubbished those who implied he was looking for a big ‘comeback.’ “Not a big comeback, I am number five in the world actually,” he said. In fact, it is probably impressive that Nadal has managed to retain his No. 5 ranking despite a less-than-ideal 2015 season - a fact he acknowledged himself.

The fiery King of Clay, who has managed to make comebacks in the past, ended simply, saying “I’m going to be passionate. I’m confident that I’m going to be very competitive.”

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