If first impressions count for anything, Brisbane has left an impressive mark on Spanish drawcard Rafael Nadal.
Despite being outmuscled 4-6 6-3 6-4 by world No.3 and defending champion Milos Raonic in an epic quarterfinal on Friday night, the fifth seed had glowing praise from his first stay in the Sunshine State capital.
“I loved the atmosphere,” Nadal said. “I really just can say thank you very much to all the organisation of the tournament, it is unbelievable. People are so nice. (It) makes me feel more than, better than like home.
“Was a great experience to be here in Brisbane. Just can say thank you to the crowd, thank you to the organisation, to the people who make the event possible, because they are doing unbelievable good work.”
His injury comeback may appear on track but the 30-year-old said he wouldn’t judge his progress until March.
The 14-time grand slam winner believed his troublesome left wrist held up well after a year-opening, five-match winning run was snapped in the quarterfinals.
Nadal was proud of how far he had come since the wrist injury forced a premature end to his 2016 season in October, saying “anything is possible” at the Australian Open.
“I really hope that I can be ready for it and I am going to fight to make it happen,” Nadal said of his Australian Open preparation.
“What’s going to happen, I can’t predict, but anything is possible.”
However, the world No.9 said he would use the Miami Open in late March as a gauge to assess his injury return – not the year’s opening grand slam.
“Looking overall, the first two weeks of the season have been positive for me,” Nadal said.
“(But) let me play for three months and then we will see where I am.
“I can go to Australia and I can play very well but at the same time…you never know what’s going on.
“Probably after Miami, that’s going to be a good moment to analyse what’s going on and to see where I am.”
In the end, Canadian, Raonic fired down 23 aces to the Spaniard’s four and blasted 50 winners to Nadal’s 19 in their heavyweight Brisbane quarter-final.
“Well, I lost against third in the world in a very close match,” Nadal said.
“I have already played six matches this year so that’s a positive for me – winning five, losing the sixth.
“And the result was so close so that’s a positive because that means that my mind was ready to keep fighting until the end.”
But Nadal tried to keep a lid on his Australian Open aspirations.
“You never can feel confident,” he said. “Last year I felt that I was ready. I had a good week of practice in Melbourne and then I lost in the first round.
“So you never know and you can’t predict.”