Melbourne: Rafa Nadal came up for air for just long enough at a sponsor`s event ahead of the Australian Open on Thursday to declare the sore left shoulder he has carried into the new season was "good" and that he was "hopefully" ready for the year`s first grand slam.
The former world number one, cosseted by an entourage of public relations people and sponsors officials, cut a slightly dejected figure as he gritted his teeth to smile for cameras outside of Rod Laver Arena on a drizzly day in Melbourne.
"My shoulder is good," the 10-time grand slam champion told a clutch of reporters, whose attempts at further questions were thwarted by handlers. "Hopefully (I am ready). I will try my best."
With that, the 2009 champion was ushered into a courtesy car and whisked away from the stadium where his bid to hold all four grand slams at once ended last year with a painful leg injury and a straight sets defeat to David Ferrer in the quarter-finals.
Along with Djokovic and Federer, who pulled out of the Qatar Open before his semi-final due to back pain, Nadal has kept a low profile in the leadup to the grand slam, but emerged later on Thursday for a practice session under cover from the rain at Rod Laver Arena.
He has struggled to overcome the sore shoulder for weeks, and has talked of taking a break after the Australian Open to recover from the injury after appearing a shadow of himself at recent tournaments.
Having lost his number one ranking to Djokovic after the Serbian`s extraordinary 70-6 year, Nadal finished his season on a personal low, spinning out of the ATP World Tour Finals after an uncharacteristic thrashing by Roger Federer and a defeat by Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He bounced back to lead Spain to their fifth Davis Cup triumph over Argentina in December, but doubts over the 25-year-old`s fitness have remained following his surprise semi-final loss to France`s Gael Monfils at the Qatar Open last week.