Rafa Nadal of Mallorca in action during a practice session ahead of the Australian Open, at Melbourne Park. | DIEGO FEDELE


Rafa Nadal said on Saturday he is delighted to be free of injury and illness and is excited about competing at the Australian Open where he will bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Returning to the Tour after recovering from a foot issue that sidelined him for nearly four months, the 35-year-old Mallorcan won his 89th career title last week at an ATP 250 tune-up event in Melbourne.

His preparations for the Australian Open, which he won in 2009, were interrupted last month when he tested positive for COVID-19 following an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.

Nadal, who was "very sick" for a few days, wants 2022 to be all about tennis.

"I came here just with the clear goal to be back on the Tour," Nadal told reporters. "That's the most important thing.

"Then if I am able to win matches, be improving every single day, fantastic. I'm excited about playing again in a Grand Slam here in Australia.

"Just enjoying the practices and be back and feel myself again a professional tennis player. I'm playing some good tennis."

Nadal, tied with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for a men's record 20 major titles, was knocked out at Roland Garros in the semi-finals last year and was forced to pull out of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open due to injury.

While unsure about his fitness for best-of-five sets matches, Nadal said getting healthy was his top priority.

"I just want to go day-by-day," added Nadal, who will face American Marcos Giron in the opening round. "But practices help. Every day I spend on court, I think it's positive.

"Every match that I am able to win, it's very important for my confidence, it's important for my physical performance, and you never know what can happen later.

"I want to give myself a chance to keep enjoying this beautiful sport, to keep fighting for the things that I have been fighting for for the last 16 years."