New serve, old body: Nadal is as ready as ever

Rafael Nadal is confident his body will allow him to perform at his best at the Australian Open despite being forced to withdraw from the Brisbane International with a niggling thigh problem.

The 32-year-old said he has recovered from November's ankle operation as he learned to accept injuries as part of the challenge of playing professional tennis.

Rafael Nadal speaks to the media at Melbourne Park.Credit:AP

"I feel good. If I was not feeling good, I would not be here," Nadal said.

Last year, injury forced the Spanish champion to withdraw during the fifth set of the Australian Open quarter-final and the second set of the US Open semis.

But no one questioned his fighting spirit or class as he won the French Open for the 11th time and lost the Wimbledon semi-final to Novak Djokovik 8-10 in the fifth set.

Unsatisfied, Nafal decided it was time to overhaul his serve heading into 2019.

"You need to … feel alive," he said.

"The serve was always a thing that I tried to improve, and I think I did.

"Maybe it was the time to try to make one more step, no? That's what we are trying."

His coach Carlos Moya told he expected the changes to make Nadal better.

"We're looking to maximise damage from the onset, and one way to do that is with a faster, more aggressive serve," Moya said.

"His serve maintains speed now after making contact with the court, making it that much more potent."

While he is aware of the risks of tinkering with his game, Nadal was hopeful the hard work now will pay off in the long term.

"I didn't compete with this new serve, so let's see how it works. I am confident it's going to work well," Nadal said.

Stepping up: James Duckworth has been handed another huge challenge.Credit:AP

Australian wildcard James Duckworth will be the first recipient of the serve when he meets the world No. 2 in the first round.

While Duckworth is realistic about his chances, he is excited to be playing under the spotlight.

"It is why you play tennis, to play on the big stage against these great champions," Duckworth said.

"I am going to have to play very well, it's a tough ask. I am going to try to play aggressive, play my game and take it to him."

Drawing Nadal in the first round continued an unlucky run for the 26-year-old, who drew Marin Cilic (French Open), Alexander Zverev (Wimbledon) and Andy Murray (US Open) in the first round of the three grand slams he played in 2018.

"I like to think what goes around comes around," Duckworth said.

Right now, what has come around is a date with Nadal, one Duckworth earned when he beat Luke Saville in December to gain a wildcard entry.

"I'm going to go in there thinking I am a chance to win. I am obviously not favourite but I am going to give my best," Duckworth said.

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