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Can Rafael Nadal's mind conquer his ailing body in 2015?

By Ravi Ubha and Isa Soares, CNN
updated 7:08 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Eyes always on the ball, but Rafael Nadal's 2014 was filled with highs but also several lows. Eyes always on the ball, but Rafael Nadal's 2014 was filled with highs but also several lows.
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The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
The highs and lows of 'Rafa' in 2014
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • This year was bittersweet for Rafael Nadal, who won another major but suffered more injuries
  • Nadal sustained back and wrist injuries before undergoing appendix surgery in November
  • The 14-time grand slam winner says he is hoping to be healthy for the start of the 2015 season
  • Nadal is putting an emphasis on the Australian Open, the year's first major that starts next month

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(CNN) -- Rafael Nadal landed a record extending ninth French Open title this year and also reached the final of the Australian Open. But typical for the Spaniard in recent campaigns, those grand slam accomplishments mingled with further health woes.

Looking back on his 2014, it's no wonder, then, that Nadal utters: "Too many things (happened) to be happy during" the whole year. "That's part of my life, though. It's happened a few times in my career."

Indeed.

And in keeping with Nadal's approach during his recovery from an avalanche of afflictions in the past, he vows to "keep working hard."

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"Now I have a month to prepare for the 2015 season, and that's my goal," the 28-year-old told CNN's Open Court in late November shortly before the groundbreaking ceremony of the Rafa Nadal Sports Center and Academy.

"I'm going to work as much as I can, hope to be healthy for that. If I am healthy, I am confident that I can come back strong again."

Jimmy Arias, a former top-five player who made the semifinals at the U.S. Open and quarterfinals at Nadal's beloved French Open in the 1980s, isn't about to disagree.

"Ever since he came onto the tour, he had all the markings of a guy that would be done with tennis by 26, 27, because his game was such a grind mentally and physically," Arias, now a tennis analyst for several networks, told CNN.com.

"He's obviously outlasted that age. He's made of sterner stuff than most of us because he's able to keep coming back from injuries and long layoffs and continues to dominate.

"Now, you get the sense that he's going to be as always -- if he's physically fit.

If Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, his mind remains as strong as ever. It's his psychological strength that sets him apart from the rest, according to Arias.

"I would say he's the greatest mental player in the history of the sport. Not strategy, necessarily, but the ability to play every point as if that's the most important one you've ever played, and do it every match."

Nadal is a veteran at coming back, having been slowed by, most notably, injuries to both knees.

However, this year saw the 14-time grand slam champion miss a chunk of time due to a back problem, wrist complaint and appendix surgery, in that order.

It all began at the Australian Open in January, when Nadal hurt his back while warming up in the final against Stan Wawrinka.

Holding a 12-0 record without conceding a set to the Swiss heading into the contest, a hampered Nadal fell in four sets with the ordeal leaving him in tears.

Recently he has undergone stem-cell treatment to aid his back after the same therapy, he said, helped his problematic, famous knees.

The back bothered Nadal, he added, throughout 2014.

"I repeated the treatment that worked very well for my knees at the end of last year, so I am doing that for my back now and I hope I have a good success on that," he said.

When the wrist sidelined Nadal at the U.S. Open, it ensured another year he skipped a major -- the last time he contested all four in a season came in 2011.

Contrast his attendance with Roger Federer -- the only man ahead of Nadal on the grand slam ladder with 17 titles. The smooth Federer has appeared in 60 consecutive grand slams, a men's record.

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Nadal subsequently underwent appendix surgery in early November, ruling him out of the prestigious year-end championships in London.

"I started this year believing that I was ready for everything again," said Nadal, looking back to the start of 2014.

"I started well, playing the final in Australia, but during the final I injured my back. It was hard for me to accept that I didn't have the chance to compete in the final," he added, referring to his defeat by Wawrinka in the opening slam of the season.

"Then I went down for a while. Takes a little bit of time to recover from that mentally and physically. I was coming back to my best again ... playing better and better every single week and arriving in Roland Garros with a great level.

"Then I won there and I was fully confident again. It was the most beautiful part of the year for me."

Wimbledon's grass hasn't been as pleasant for Nadal since he nabbed the last of his two titles in 2010.

Hindered by his knees in 2012 and 2013, he was on the receiving end of two of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history, exiting to Lukas Rosol and Steve Darcis, respectively.

In the most recent edition, Nadal succumbed to fearless young Australian Nick Kyrgios, who seemingly could do no wrong on his serve in the fourth-round tussle. Kyrgios struck 37 aces and was broken once.

I would say he's the greatest mental player in the history of the sport
Jimmy Arias

There was, though, a positive for Nadal.

"I felt the knees were more comfortable playing there," he said. "That's important for me.

"I loved that match, but I couldn't win that match. That can happen on grass but I was proud the way that I played this year."

Next year Nadal's chances at Wimbledon should increase, since an extra week features between the French Open and the year's third grand slam.

Nadal isn't thinking yet about winning a 10th French Open or triumphing at Wimbledon, more preoccupied with being ready -- and competitive -- for the Australian Open next month.

Nadal won the Australian Open in 2009, but lately his memories of Oz presumably haven't been as upbeat.

Aside from his back issue versus Wawrinka, he retired in 2010, injured his hamstring in 2011 as he sought a fourth straight grand slam title -- or the 'Rafa Slam' -- and lost the longest grand slam final in history in 2012 to Novak Djokovic.

"My main goal today is try to put my body and my tennis again in a competitive way," said Nadal.

"That's what I'm going to try to do during this December. I am thinking I am (focused) about Australia because I like a lot of years in Australia, and I felt that I was doing the right things there so many years during my career.

"I have a special motivation for that."

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