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Nadal’s making steady progress

Madrid: Rafa Nadal is recovering well from the back problem that wrecked his Australian Open final last month and plans to start training again on Thursday, in his native Mallorca, his team said on Tuesday.

World No. 1 Nadal lost to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka in the final in Melbourne, preventing the Spaniard drawing level on 14 Grand Slam singles titles with American Pete Sampras.

Nadal had more tests in Barcelona on Monday and his team said in a statement they were “satisfactory and showed favourable progress”.

“The player began gym work on Tuesday and a decision on when he will be able to start competing again will depend on his adaptation on the court in coming days,” they added.

Nadal is due to play in a claycourt event in Buenos Aires starting on February 10, followed by a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, also on clay, and the hardcourt Masters events at Indian Wells and Miami.

Before the final of the Australian Open, it seemed that the injury jinx that had plagued him in previous years — 2006, 2010, 2011, 2013 — had finally lifted. Aside from a badly blistered and bandaged left hand, he was injury free.

That was until he got to the final — a match that Nadal was the clear favourite to win against Stanislas Wawrinka. The top-ranked Nadal had beaten Wawrinka in all 12 of their previous matches.

What transpired on Centre Court was one of the more unusual Grand Slam finals in recent history. Not only did Nadal lose 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 3-6 but he was loudly booed after taking a medical time out in the second set. As he struggled and pushed the match to four sets, it became clear that the 13-time major winner had become the underdog.

When Nadal accepted his runners-up trophy, he apologised to the crowd and to Wawrinka, a friend since they were teens. “I’m sorry to finish this way,” Nadal told the crowd in the 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena, which erupted in cheers that made him blink back tears.

“This year was one of the most emotional tournaments in my career.”

Breaking the curse in Melbourne also would have made him the first player to win each of the majors twice in the Open era.