Slow offseason benefits Nadal

"A title is always special in any week of the season," Nadal said. "Beginnings of the season are important because every time you start another season, you start from zero again. Every victory is important, and title today means a lot to me.

"And [I was] playing much better tennis at the end of the tournament than what I did at the beginning." With the Doha trophy in his suitcase, Nadal was looking forward to returning to the Australian Open for the first time since 2012, when he came out on the losing end of an instant epic five-set final versus Novak Djokovic.

With no points to defend this year, the Australian should have nothing but upside for Nadal, who won his lone Australian Open trophy in 2009, and who hasn't dropped a set through two rounds. His much-anticipated opener against Aussie whippersnapper Bernard Tomic turned out to be anticlimactic when the sometimes troubled player retired with a groin injury after dropping the first set. In his second match, Rafa beat down another Aussie, Thanasi Kokkinakis, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4. 

Nadal surprised many, however, by not being in any big rush to get to Australia after winning the Doha title. He had plenty of time to make the Saturday night flight after the final, but did not travel Down Under until Sunday night.

In Doha with his family -- mom, dad, sister and girlfriend -- he couldn't have cared less that his biggest competitors were already in Australia preparing for the first Grand Slam of the season.

"First of all, is fantastic new to be back here in this great tournament after missing last year," Nadal said after his second-round match. "I missed a lot be here. Is a place that I really love so much. I enjoy a lot being here in this city. The organization with the players is, my opinion, the best. They always are improving things. Every year something is new and something is better. Just congratulate them for everything."

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