After years worrying about his troublesome knees, Rafael Nadal is aware that he now has another concern he must regularly attend to – his back.
This time last year, the Spaniard sustained a back injury that hampered him during his final defeat to Stan Wawrinka in Melbourne and it has forced him to undergo a series of different treatments throughout the course of 2014, including a rumoured stem cells treatment he refuses to elaborate upon.
Ex-world No1 Jim Courier recently said “once a back patient, always a back patient” – a statement Nadal seems to be coming to terms with.
However, ahead of his Australian Open second round on Wednesday against American Tim Smyczek, Nadal was happy to reveal that his back is not currently affecting his tennis on court.
“The back is not limiting me, so that's important for the moment, no?” said Nadal, who will be facing the 112th-ranked Smyczek for the first time in his career.
“I know the back is dangerous. I know the back is a thing that you have to take care about. We are trying to do the right things to be safe with that, but there is things you cannot control.”
Despite a convincing straight-sets win over Mikhail Youzhny in round one, the 28-year-old remains cautious about his expectations Down Under.
“I have one match. That's better than two days ago. But I need more to feel that I am ready for something very important here,” said Nadal.
One player who also suffered injury drama in Melbourne last year is Australian Bernard Tomic, who was forced to retire from his opening round against Nadal in 2014.
He then had two hip surgeries and battled long and hard to get to the strong form he’s been showcasing over the past couple of weeks.
The 22-year-old said he was able to erase some painful memories with his four-set victory over Tobias Kamke in the first round on Monday, and is feeling confident heading into his match today with No22 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, whom he beat last week in Sydney.
Tomic, who cracked the top-30 back in 2012, has slipped to No66 and he actually had to remind his fans on court the other day that he is no longer Australia’s No1 player – he is No2 behind Nick Kyrgios. It is a fact that he is paying little attention to however.
“I'm very confident. I played very well in Brisbane; played very well in Sydney. It's coming good. I'm very fit,” said Tomic. “I play a player that I played last week, but it's not easy to play Kohlschreiber.
“He's very smart and very good with the game. He controls it well with the rallies.
“It's a player that is very, very, very capable of beating everyone. That's why he's been so many years inside the top 30, 20.”
Last year’s semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard is also feeling fresh and confident heading into her second round against Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens on Wednesday.
“I haven't played an official match in two and a half months, so it really does give your brain a break. For me, it makes me so excited to play. Just I feel good mentally on the court. I'm just so ready to fight and leave everything on the court,” said the Canadian No7 seed.