Rafael Nadal admits he felt vulnerable before Jack Draper match in Melbourne

Rafael Nadal admitted that he felt vulnerable ahead of his first-round match against Britain’s Jack Draper at the Australian Open.

The defending champion enters the tournament in the worst form of his career, losing six of his last seven games leading up to the US Open.

“Of course. Nadal, when asked about his vulnerability, I’m losing more than ever, that’s part of the job,” he said.

“I think I’m humble enough to accept this situation and work with what I have today. I need to rebuild all that momentum. I need to rebuild that confidence with wins.”

It’s a measure of 21-year-old Draper’s prestige that he’s seen as a nightmarish draw for Nadal, who was number one in the absence of injured compatriot Carlos Alcaraz.

The young Londoner moved up more than 200 places in the standings last year and arrived in Melbourne after rushing to the semi-finals of Adelaide International.

Nadal said of his left-handed friend: “It’s probably one of the hardest first laps possible to be seeded. He is young, strong, growing very, very fast in qualifying, playing well.

Jack Draper in Adelaide

Jack Draper reaches Adelaide International semi-finals (Kelly Barnes/AP)

“It is a big challenge for me to start the tournament in the beginning. I’m here to give myself a chance. I know you play well. He has a lot of positive things and he probably has a great career ahead of him. I hope to be ready to fight for the first lap and let’s see what happens.”

From wondering if a foot problem meant the end of his career, to Nadal’s most notable win of 22 grand slam titles, he only needs to look back 12 months for proof of how quickly things can change.

“The sport is moving fast,” he said. “What happened last year is long gone. But in sports, especially in a sport like tennis, people remember victories. People will remember that I had 22 grand slams today, not 50 more that I lost.

“What happened last year will remain in my heart and memory forever. Undoubtedly one of the most emotional victories of my tennis career.

“The atmosphere and the love of the people we had at Rod Laver Arena in that final was unforgettable for me.”

Nadal started this year with two losses in the ATP Cup against Draper’s compatriot Cameron Norrie and Australian Alex De Minaur.

But he was encouraged by his performances in practice and said: “I think I’m in a moment of improvement, getting better and better every week.

“I feel faster in my legs. I feel like I’m playing better with more confidence. The last three weeks of preparation here have been very positive for me.

“Honestly, I feel ready. The only thing not on my side are victories.”

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