Nadal optimistic of mounting Australian Open challenge

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Rafael Nadal says it is "not ideal" to have missed the Brisbane International but is optimistic he will be ready to mount another strong challenge for the Australian Open title. A knee injury has prevented Nadal from playing a competitive match since losing to David Goffin at the ATP World Tour Finals in November.

The 16-time grand slam champion returned for a defeat to Richard Gasquet at the Kooyong Classic on Tuesday and is hopeful a lack of match practice will not hold him back in Melbourne.

"Last year's season was a bit long and I had to start a little bit later than I would've liked. For me it was not ideal to not be in Brisbane, I would have loved to be there but I had to make a different schedule this year," said the world number one, who is starting a new era without coach, mentor and uncle Toni Nadal in his corner.

"For the first time, I have to play here at the Australian [Open] for the first tournament of the year. I'm excited about it and I've got a few days to practice. Yesterday was a good practice at Kooyong. Today, I have another good round of practising and I hope to be ready for it."

Nadal was beaten by Roger Federer in an epic final last year but felt that setback helped him to kick on for the remainder of a season which saw him claim the French Open and US Open titles.

"It was a very important two weeks here last year. I was talking with Lleyton [Hewitt] before and of course, it was tough losing that final because winning 3-1 in the fifth [set] in the final of a grand slam, it's always tough to lose it," he added.

"But I didn't take that in a negative way. For me, it was a very positive two weeks, a lot of positive energy from the fans here in Australia.

"That gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season and I think I played great all of the seasons, playing very competitively in all the events I played. Especially on clay, I had an amazing clay court season. Then I played very well in the US Open too."