Monday, 20 May, 2024


Nadal makes winning return on injury comeback

Sports Desk |
Update: 2024-04-17 13:10:59
Nadal makes winning return on injury comeback photo collected

Rafael Nadal enjoyed a winning start at the Barcelona Open as he returned from another long-term injury in what could be his final year before retirement.

The Spanish 22-time major champion, who turns 38 in June, won 6-2 6-3 against inexperienced Italian Flavio Cobolli in their first-round match on Tuesday.

Now ranked 644th, Nadal was playing for the first time since January because of a hip injury and abdominal issues.

Nadal has indicated 2024 is likely to be his last as a professional player.

After pulling out of last year's French Open with the hip problem, the former world number one said he planned to retire at the end of this season.

Nadal, who is considered as one of the best players in history and greatest clay-courter of all time, has only played one event since.

But, before making his latest comeback in Barcelona, Nadal said he was not "putting a deadline" on his retirement and would only keep playing as long as he felt it was "worth it".

This win was a positive step, if a somewhat straightforward assignment, as the record 14-time champion aims to return to Roland Garros next month.

"I'm just having fun and happy to start with a victory," said Nadal, who faces a tougher opponent next in Australian world number 11 Alex de Minaur.

"I'm going through some tough moments but at the same time when I'm able to be on tour and compete a little bit it means a lot."

What shape was Nadal in?
It was intriguing to see what shape Nadal would be in against 62nd-ranked Cobolli, who has only played in the main draw of a Grand Slam twice.

A record 12-time champion in Barcelona, Nadal was playing his first clay-court match in 681 days - when he won the 2022 French Open final.

There was an air of anticipation as a packed crowd awaited Nadal's arrival on the court which is named in his honour,, external with the gangways on his walk out full of ball kids and tournament staff waiting for a glimpse.

A near-standing ovation and huge roar greeted Nadal, while the familiar pre-match foibles - aligning his water bottles, box jumps at the net and zigzagged sprint to the baseline - were also lapped up.

It was less certain whether the shot-making and athleticism which they have become accustomed to seeing from Nadal would also return.

Doubts had been raised about the impact of the abdominal injury on his serve and, although it appeared he wasn't serving at full tilt, he showed few issues.

There was, understandably, some early rust in his groundstrokes before Nadal quickly found fluency from both forehand and backhand wings.

With Cobolli looking slightly overawed and showing uncertainty in his shots, Nadal cemented an early break for a 4-1 lead and wrapped up the opening set in 43 minutes.

Whipping a trademark forehand winner down the line in the second game of the second set illustrated his growing confidence.

Nadal edged a run of three straight breaks and saw out victory by taking his second match point, showing his delight with trademark underarm fist pump.

Source: BBC

BDST: 1310 HRS, APR 17, 2024

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