Nadal returns after 4-month layoff and loses to Murray

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A rusty Rafael Nadal played his first match in more than four months on Friday, losing in straight sets to Andy Murray at an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion’s chronic foot injury forced him to sit out the final months of this season.

Nadal has not competed since early August when he lost to Lloyd Harris in Washington. He missed Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics and the U.S. Open.

The sixth-ranked Nadal fell to Murray 6-3, 7-5 at the Mubadala World Championship. He’s scheduled to face Denis Shapovalov for third place.

The 35-year-old Spaniard plans to play an ATP tournament in Melbourne early in the new year before the Australian Open begins Jan. 17.

“I know it’s going to be super difficult for me,” Nadal said on Thursday about his Australian Open prospects.

With two matches in Abu Dhabi and the Melbourne warmup, he said, “the amount of hours on court at the competitive level before such a tough and demanding tournament like Australia will be not much.

“But the main thing is still always the same — is to be healthy,” he continued. “If I am healthy, I still have the interior fire to keep going and to fight for my goals.”

Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are tied with a record 20 Grand Slam singles titles each.

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