Rafael Nadal tests positive for COVID-19, putting Australian Open in doubt

Dan Wolken

Rafael Nadal said Monday he tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Spain from an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi last weekend.

The timing of the positive test potentially complicates Nadal’s plans for the Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 17. Nadal, 35, has played very little competitive tennis since last year’s French Open because of various injuries and was attempting to ramp back up in time for the first Grand Slam event of the season. 

After losing two matches in Abu Dhabi to Andy Murray and Denis Shapovalov, Nadal, who said previously that he has been vaccinated, was noncommittal about playing in Australia and said he would have to see how he felt before making a decision. 

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Rafael Nadal reacts during his semi-final match against Britain's Andy Murray in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 17, 2021.

“I cannot guarantee Australia 100 percent because I need to go home and see how the body responds after these days,” Nadal told reporters. “I have time to make a decision. At this point in my career, I need to go day by day, study each movement well."

Nadal, who holds 20 Grand Slam titles to tie Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the all-time lead, had been bothered in the first part of last season by a back injury and skipped both Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics after losing to Djokovic in the French Open semifinals. 

But after playing just two matches in Washington, D.C., in August while trying to gear up for the North American hardcourt swing and ultimately the U.S. Open, a chronic problem with his left foot flared up and required him to miss the rest of the season. 

The lack of match play has left Nadal with a short window of opportunity to get into proper condition for the Australian Open, and it's unclear how a bout with coronavirus will impact that process. For Nadal, of course, the primary objective at this point in his career is the clay court season and the French Open, a tournament he has won 13 times. 

Nadal posted in Spanish on Twitter that he was “having some unpleasant moments” since testing positive.

“As a consequence of the situation, I have to have total flexibility with my calendar and I will analyze my options,” Nadal wrote. “I will keep you informed of any decisions about my future tournaments.”

Should Nadal decide not to play in Australia, it would continue a common trend in tennis recently where the game’s aging legends are struggling to be physically ready for Grand Slam events. Federer and Serena Williams have already pulled out of the Australian Open due to injuries. 

Djokovic is on the entry list for Australia but has not said publicly whether he will play due to the government mandates requiring players to be vaccinated to participate. Djokovic has refused to say whether he’s been vaccinated.