World number two Rafael Nadal lost to Kevin Anderson at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Friday but said he was “satisfied” with his first match back after ankle surgery.
The Spaniard lost a tight three-setter 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 and subsequently withdrew from his third-place play-off match so as not to push his body too far too soon.
“Tough match, three-set match, I didn’t play sets before here,” said Nadal who had not played since a knee problem forced him to retire during his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September.
“At the same time, I get pains after a long time without playing, so probably tomorrow (Saturday) I will not play.
“I will take a couple of days off. The season just started for me, it was a goal to be here.”
Nadal underwent surgery on his ankle to remove an loose intra-articular body in November and only resumed training two weeks ago.
“When you are out since a long time ago – I had the surgery a little over a month ago – it’s normal that I have some pains,” Nadal said after his loss to world number six Anderson.
“Being honest, I’m satisfied the way I was playing tennis. I am more or less satisfied with how the body held.
“It’s not the moment for me to take a step back, it’s the moment to make a step forward. Today’s match is a step forward for me, that’s the main thing.”
Nadal is now scheduled to kick off 2019 in Brisbane next week in preparation for the first Major of the year.
“My goal is try to be ready for the Australian Open and I think I’m on the way to make that happen but, of course, I can’t take a lot of risk after the surgery.”
Nadal was due to face Karen Khachanov on Saturday in Abu Dhabi after the young Russian lost to an impressive Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3 on Friday.