Home Australia Rafael Nadal ‘takes it easy’ as he wins comeback match, setting up clash with Australian number one

Rafael Nadal ‘takes it easy’ as he wins comeback match, setting up clash with Australian number one

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Alex de Minaur consoles Rafael Nadal at the net after a United Cup tennis match.

With a crosscourt forehand that forced his opponent back to the net, Rafael Nadal has completed a very successful return to action.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner had not been seen on court since his brief return in Brisbane in January, his only tournament since the Australian Open in January 2023.

He had not played on clay since winning the French Open title for the 14th time in June 2022.

But on a court named after him and backed by an adoring crowd, he defeated world number 62 Flavio Cobolli 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 25 minutes in the first round of the Barcelona Open.

De Minaur won the last confrontation with Nadal in the 2023 United Cup.(Getty Images: Andy Cheung)

That set up a second-round clash with Australian number one Alex de Minaur, who will be a much tougher test than the nervous Cobolli, who committed 41 unforced errors.

“I’m having fun, happy to start with a victory,” Nadal said on court.

“When you are at an older age, things become even more difficult. [to come back] “But being able to stay on tour for a few days and practice with the guys, and be able to compete a little bit, means a lot to me.”

Even though his ranking has slipped to 644th in the world, Nadal would like to have a chance against De Minaur, who has never reached a final on clay.

The world number 11 is in the best form of his career, but is advancing towards the French Open, where he never made it past the second round.

Nadal, who leads the matchup 3-1 against the Australian, confirmed that he was recovering.

“I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t make sense right now. I’m not going to go out and serve like a crazy person,” Nadal said.

“I have to take it slow because that’s what’s needed right now.”

The winner of Nadal-de Miñaur will face either Daniel Altmaier or Arthur Fils in the third round after Altmaier beat another Australian, Alexei Popyrin, 6-3, 7-6(7/4).

Second seed Andrey Rublev destroyed his racquet at the end of a 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) loss to Brandon Nakashima that continued his losing streak.

Rublev also lost in straight sets in the first round in Monte Carlo and Miami, and in the second round in Indian Wells.

In Munich, Australians Chris O’Connell and Aleksandar Vukic lost in straight sets in the first round to lower-ranked opponents.

O’Connell was defeated 6-3, 6-4 by Daniel Taro who, ranked 85th, is 27 places below him in the world.

Vukic lost to Jurij Rodionov, 6-2, 6-3, ranked 118, 53 spots lower. The Austrian will now play against top seed Alexander Zverev.

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