Rafael Nadal to play Kooyong exhibition ahead of Australian Open

by: AP | January 06, 2018

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Rafael Nadal reached the final of the Australian Open last year, and is using Kooyong as a tuneup before this year's major. (AP0

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Top-ranked Rafael Nadal will make his return from injury at the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament to prepare for the Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 15.

Nadal joins former No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, a six-time Australian Open champion, in using the Kooyong event to warm up for the year's first Grand Slam tournament.

Tournament director Peter Johnston on Sunday said negotiations with Nadal accelerated after the 16-time major winner withdrew from the Brisbane International.

"Rafa was looking for match play and of course we were more than happy to oblige," Johnston said. "The addition of both Novak and Rafa changes our schedule and the way we will run the four days but that's what Kooyong is all about, we are here to help the players get ready for the Open."

Nadal, who lost last year's Australian final to Roger Federer and went on to win the French and U.S. Open titles, has been struggling with a right knee problem and withdrew from the ATP tournament in Brisbane to give himself longer for recovery. He is scheduled to play Tuesday at Kooyong, which regularly hosted the Australian Open on grass before the tournament moved to hard courts at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic is returning from a right elbow injury that has kept him off the tour since July. Last week he said he wasn't sure he'd be able to play at the Australian Open, and wouldn't confirm until after the two exhibition events.

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