RAFAEL Nadal is going back to the future this Australian Open — and he’ll have the tan to prove it.
The 31-year-old Spaniard isn’t yet a certainty to play in the year’s first major as he battles a knee injury that has kept him off the court since the ATP World Tour Finals in mid-November, but he’s still hopeful of strutting his stuff at Melbourne Park.
He will face Richard Gasquet today at the Kooyong Classic in a key fitness test ahead of the Australian Open and if he emerges from the tournament unscathed, spectators at the grand slam Down Under will be treated to retro Nadal.
Spanish publication Marca is reporting the World No. 1 will wear a sleeveless tank top on the blue hardcourts of Melbourne — the first time he’ll have done so in nearly 10 years.
Nadal last went sans sleeves in late 2008 but in an effort to beat the sapping Melbourne heat, Marca reports he approached sponsor Nike to come up with a new design that means he’ll need to apply plenty of sunscreen to those bulging biceps of his.
Ladies around world will probably be pretty pleased to see the Nadal gun show making a triumphant return and by the looks of it, the trophy Noah Rubin picked up for winning the recent ATP Challenger event in Noumea is too.
Website rafaelnadalfans.com was full of positive comments about the proposed new look.
“Been waiting for it to happen, and why not! If you’ve got it flaunt it. I think he’s more himself wearing sleeveless shirts,” one comment read.
“Love to see Rafa wearing sleeveless T-shirt. He looks good in it and with the hot weather in Melbourne it’s only practical to wear it,” said another.
When Nadal burst onto the scene he became known as much for his tank tops and three-quarter length pants as his scintillating inside-out forehand. The sleeveless number may be back but thankfully the pants aren’t — we hope.
They were daggy then, they’re daggy now and we’re betting even if Kate Middleton attended Prince Harry’s royal wedding in a pair the rest of the world would still be too scared to follow suit for fear of losing all their social capital.
But Nadal was young, so we’ll forgive him.
Nadal’s clash with French world No. 31 Gasquet at the Kooyong exhibition event is likely to help decide whether he can commit to a 13th campaign at Melbourne Park.
With Andy Murray having already ruled himself out, Nadal is one of several big names still under an injury cloud ahead of the Australian Open starting on Monday.
Novak Djokovic will play two matches at Kooyong in his return from an elbow complaint, while Stan Wawrinka has missed the past six months with a knee injury.
All three are set to play at the Tie Break Tens fast-format exhibition tournament on Wednesday night in Melbourne.
Nadal, who lost to Roger Federer in five sets in last year’s final, arrived in Melbourne last week, determined to add to his sole Australian Open triumph in 2009.
Concerns over his fitness led Nadal to pull out of lead-up events in Brisbane and Sydney, having earlier cancelled a planned training block in Majorca with Portuguese player Joao Sousa.
Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said the 31-year-old would likely be feeling nervous ahead of the year’s opening grand slam.
“When you have a setback only a couple of weeks from the Australian Open, it’s a bit of a worry, particularly when you know you’re going to be playing best of five-set matches in heat,” Cash said on Monday.
“It could be really extreme heat.
“You have to be able to be ready to play five sets, and it’s always a bit of a panic. I think the players would be quite anxious about it.”
— with AAP