Nadal completes an emotional return to Barcelona

The Spaniard will face De Minaur in the second round

April 16, 2024

Rafael Nadal celebrates his victory against Flavio Cobolli in the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
By Staff

Rafael Nadal is back.

This Tuesday, the Spaniard stepped onto the courts of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, one of the most special stages of his career, to reunite with two old travel companions: the competition, after 102 days without playing, and the clay, breaking a pause of 681 days away from the surface, on which he has built a good part of his legend. In front of the field that bears his name, in the facilities of his club and cheered on by a stand full of his compatriots, the Mallorcan lived a day of enormous satisfaction. He won again. But, above all, he smiled again on a tennis court.

The image of the Spaniard, smiling with his arms raised, was a sight already known on the circuit. That of the return after a long injury, an obstacle so many times overcome by the talent of Manacor.

“I have tried many times in my career. It is getting more complicated, especially when you are older. Things get harder,” said Nadal, who had not competed on clay since winning Roland Garros in the 2022 season. “I have to go through difficult times but, at the same time, it means a lot to me to be able to be in the Tour for a few days, train with the boys and maybe compete a little. I still enjoy the process. I’m happy to start with a victory, without a doubt “.

The former world No. 1 defeated Italian Flavio Cobolli 6-2, 6-3, playing the competition in a match based on clay patterns. With room to build points and guide the ball with his forehand, the Spaniard managed the dance of the match with his order intact. In a mature first round, Nadal put aside uncertainty to impose his great strength: a permanent capacity for concentration to search for the goal.

The first break of the match unleashed a huge roar in the stands, determined to spur the spirit of their most anticipated player. The Spaniard, on a day unlike any other, began to leave glimpses of the personality that elevated him to sporting eternity. A look into the distance or just a timidly clenched fist were enough to mark his enormous presence on the court.

With the heat of spring as the setting, Nadal set out to draw a return of pure dedication. The Spaniard caught the first set without blinking, snatching two turns of service from Cobolli with impeccable hunger. The way he sealed the set, breaking the service of his rival without the margin making him give up, was the best indication of his will.

With the score in favor and his heart already agitated, Nadal showed motivation growing up. He seemed to care little about the disorder at the beginning of the second set, where three consecutive breaks occurred before getting the match back on track. The Mallorcan colored the pauses between points with shouts of encouragement, fists clenched as before and an ability to sustain the intensity on the court. Above the scoreboard, the sensation of manipulating the body as he pleases in search of the ball.

On his return to clay, Nadal will find an absolute warm-up. The Spaniard will play the second round of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell against world No. 11 Alex de Miñaur, one of the fastest players in the locker room and a great touchstone on the slopes of the tournament. The fourth seeded Australian, who days ago tightened the screws on Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals, will be a litmus test for the Mallorcan’s blows.

Nadal dominates an unprecedented Lexus ATP Head2Head record on clay 3-1. Although the Mallorcan raised his dominance against De Minaur on big stages, including victories at Wimbledon and the US Open, the Australian caught the most recent duel between the two in the group stage of the ATP Cup 2023. It will be the first direct clash in an ATP Masters 1000.

De Minaur is going through the best moment of his career in 2024, a season in which he debuted in the Top 10 of the PIF ATP Rankings and won his biggest title at the ATP 500 in Acapulco.

Did you know…?
Rafael Nadal is the most successful player in the history of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. With a total of 12 trophies won (2005-09, 2011-13, 2016-18, 2021), the Mallorcan has starred in some of the most special pages of his career on the clay of Barcelona. During the 2017 season, the center court of the Real Club Tennis Barcelona-1899 was named in his honor in recognition of his impeccable career.


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