Rafael Nadal says the worst thing about the injury that forced him out of the Australian Open quarter-finals was that it came just as he was playing great tennis.
Nadal is the defending champion and third seed – behind Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic – in the first Masters 1000 tournament of the season at Indian Wells.
“When you have an injury in the second tournament it’s always difficult to accept, especially because I was playing really well,” he said.
Nadal limped out of his Aussie Open quarter-final against Andy Murray in the third set, after dropping the first two sets.
“I can lose quarter-finals in Australia against Andy for sure, but you know, my feeling is I was ready to win,” he said.
“I was believing I can win the tournament there. That was the worst thing, because I was playing really well.”
Nadal ended up missing the ATP tournament in Rotterdam last month and Spain’s Davis Cup victory over Switzerland.
“If I had the chance to continue playing Rotterdam and Davis Cup, it’s going to be much better to play these tournaments,” he said.
Instead Nadal arrives in the California desert after a lengthy break from competition.
But the 23-year-old Spaniard, who beat Murray decisively in the wind-blown final here last year, said he had resumed training two and a half weeks after the Australian Open and had gradually built up to playing every day.
“When you come back you are always a little bit scared, but I’m feeling OK,” said Nadal, who said the injury at Melbourne was a tendon tear in his right knee, rather than the tendinits that has hindered him before.
“I practiced hard in Mallorca, and I did here, too, the last three, four days. I think I am ready.”
But he acknowledged that there could be some rust.
“Tennis is a rhythm game,” he said.
“It is important play a few months in a row. That’s what I need now.”
With that in mind, his immediate goals are simple: “Be healthy and play well.”
“If I do both things, I’m going to have good chances to have good tournaments and to have good results. My feeling is the level is there.”