Rafael Nadal said his triumph at the Melbourne Summer Set 1 on Sunday has helped dispel some of his doubts as the Spaniard began the new season with a title after a lengthy injury-absence.
Nadal, 35, captured his 89th career trophy after seeing off American qualifier Maxime Cressy 7-6, 6-3 in the final of the ATP 250 event ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on January 17.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion saved a set point in the first-set tie-break and fought back from a break down in the second set, before closing out the match in one hour, 44 minutes.
"Very happy to start the season with a title ... and from where we are coming, it's very special," Nadal said. "I think I played my best match so far since I arrived here, without a doubt, against a very difficult player."
Nadal made his return to the court at last month's Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, but the former world No 1 was understandably rusty having been sidelined with a foot injury since August. His preparations for the 2022 season were complicated further after testing positive for Covid-19 upon returning to Spain from the UAE.
"If we put everything together and analyse all the things that I went through the last five months, including the Covid after Abu Dhabi, of course I am happy," he said. "Of course there have been still doubts, but even more doubts during a lot of months, if I will be able to be back."
But Nadal insisted there was still much to be done as he looks to regain match sharpness and add to his tally of 20 majors, a record he currently shares with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
"Well, exactly where I would like to be is being 100 per cent healthy, playing until the end of the season and without coming back after five, six months outside of the competition," he said. "I have a lot of things to keep improving and I'm going to try hard."