Rafael Nadal on Wednesday withdrew from the season-opening Brisbane International after an MRI revealed a slight strain of his left thigh. Nadal, who had a first-round bye, was scheduled to play his second round match against Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Thursday. However, after conferring with his doctors he decided to withdraw to ensure he would be fit to play the Australian Open later this month.Also Read - Australian Open: Rafael Nadal Begins Quest For 21st Grand Slam With Easy Opening-Round Win

Nadal, the current world number two, has not played a main tour event since a knee problem forced him to retire during his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro in September. Also Read - Elena Rybakina Dismantles Emma Raducanu in Sydney Classic Opener

The 32-year-old had surgery on his ankle in November to remove a loose intra-articular body and only resumed training three weeks ago. He played the opening round at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi last week, where he lost to South African Kevin Anderson. “I feel good, but after a long period of time without competing, I felt the leg tightening a little bit in Abu Dhabi in the first match,” he said. Also Read - Australian Open 2022: Nick Kyrgios Urges Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal to Participate in First Slam

“That’s why I didn’t play the second (match). So I came here. I did an MRI, and it shows a very small strain on the left thigh, but it’s there.” Nadal said doctors were confident he would be fit to play in Melbourne.

“They say that it’s a very small thing, but it can become a big thing, because a strain in the muscle is dangerous,” he said.

“When you increase the intensity on the muscle when competing, then there is a big risk to make it something bigger.

The Spaniard, however, plans to compete at the Australian Open, which is scheduled to begin on January 14.

“I feel better than four days ago. So the normal improvement is I will be practising. I will probably be 100 per cent in five days. But I really believe that I will be 100 per cent ready for Melbourne,” he said.

Nadal has been aiming to return to the ATP Tour for the first time since September 7, when he retired in the US Open semi-finals against Juan Martin del Potro.