sport

Nadal: Final loss was tough to take

Rafael Nadal says his Australian Open final injury and subsequent defeat was one of the "toughest moments" of his career.

The Spaniard gave an indication of what was to come in a stellar 2013 when, only a month after returning from his most recent knee injury lay-off, he won the Masters series title in Indian Wells.

Nadal is back in the Californian desert and fully fit again following the back problem that struck during the Australian Open final against Stanislas Wawrinka in January.

He was rendered barely able to move during the second set and, although he somehow managed to win the third, it was Wawrinka who came through in four to claim an unexpected first grand slam title.

Nadal said: "It was one of the toughest moments of my career. It's tough to be there for an hour and a half knowing you will not win. Not winning is not the most important thing - the worst thing is knowing you will not compete.

"When you are losing and competing, it's part of the game. For me it was much harder to lose this one than the 2012 final against Novak (Djokovic) after six hours.

"I did everything right to be there, to compete in the final, and I couldn't.

"It's true that Wawrinka was playing unbelievable. I don't know if I would have had the chance to win the match because he was playing amazing.

"I am a great loser, I never think about the losses, just a few hours then I forget and try to look to the next thing. But it's true that after that it takes a bit more time."

Nadal made his comeback on clay in Rio last month and won his second title of the season.

Last year turned out to be one of the most successful, and definitely the most remarkable, of his career, and he ended it with 10 trophies, including an eighth French Open and a second US Open.

Nadal won four tournaments on hardcourts having previously gone more than two years without winning a single one.

The first of those was at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, when he beat Juan Martin del Potro in the final.

He said: "It was a very emotional moment for me. To win on hardcourts again, winning a Masters 1000 after a long period of time without having the chance to play tennis.

"It gave me a lot of positive energy and everything to continue fighting and practising hard. It gave me more confidence that I was ready to be back, ready to compete.

"I never will forget the victory of 2013 here for sure, it's one of the most special for me."

Nadal, who meets Radek Stepanek in his first match, will have his work cut out after the draw loaded many of the dangermen in his half.

He could meet Andy Murray in the quarter-finals before a potential semi-final against Wawrinka or his Swiss compatriot Roger Federer.

No-one arrived in California on more of a high than Federer, who beat Djokovic on his way to victory in Dubai last weekend, his biggest title since 2012.

The 32-year-old has continued the positive form he showed in Australia and for the first time in many months looks a potential winner of the biggest titles having recovered from his own back problems.

Federer said: "Of course it's nice beating Novak but for me it stands out winning a tournament and holding a trophy in my hands. I'm not holding Novak up!

"I'm just happy to see that the hard work is paying off. I am playing nicely now. I've been pain-free for a long period of time now, which is the goal. It feels great and winning cements that.

"It's more fun playing that way and it gives me confidence and makes me more eager to play more and win more.

"It's important I get through Indian Wells and Miami in a good way. These two Masters 1000s are really important to me.

"I've had some amazing trips here, winning back-to-back (in 2006) was really good times and I hope I can come close to doing something like that again."

Before he starts his singles campaign, Federer will be in action in doubles on Friday when he teams up with Wawrinka against Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi.