Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Rafael Nadal wins on injury comeback at Barcelona Open

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal hits a return during the match against Flavio Cobolli. — AFP

BARCELONA, April 17: Making a triumphant return from injury, Rafael Nadal demonstrated his dominance at the Barcelona Open on Tuesday by swiftly dispatching Flavio Cobolli.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion, who hadn’t competed in an ATP Tour match since January, secured a convincing 6-2, 6-3 victory over the Italian in just one hour and 25 minutes, advancing to the second round.
Nadal, aged 37, relished the opportunity to compete on clay for the first time since his triumphant French Open win in 2022. Despite the hiatus, he showcased glimpses of his customary brilliance, delivering a solid performance that hinted at his enduring prowess on the court.
“It was a good start — when you return you can’t get rid of the doubts in one day, above all, on a physical level,” Nadal told TVE.
“Within what it could be, it was a good first round. He made mistakes and I think I played the game that I had to play.”
Nadal, the unparalleled champion with a record 14 triumphs at Roland Garros, is eagerly anticipating his potential participation in May’s event, which he anticipates will mark the concluding chapter of his illustrious professional career.
The clay court maestro, who endured a significant portion of 2023 sidelined due to injury, is set to take on
Alex de Minaur on Wednesday following his effortless victory over Cobolli.
“It will be at a speed that I don’t know if I will be able to keep up with, but I’ll try,” Nadal said of facing the 11th-ranked De Minaur.
After initially facing a 30-0 deficit due to a double fault, Nadal swiftly regained his composure and found his rhythm on the court, capitalising on the fervent support from the crowd in the stadium named in his honor, which seemed to unsettle Cobolli.
Nadal seized control of the match by converting his third break point in the fourth game, securing a 3-1 lead. Despite Cobolli’s resilience, holding serve at 4-2 down, Nadal’s relentless pressure eventually paid off as he broke once again to claim the set in just 43 minutes, punctuating the victory with a triumphant fist pump.
Entering the second set, Cobolli’s game faltered, conceding a break for a 2-0 lead to Nadal, courtesy of two unforced errors. Though Cobolli managed to break back in the third game, Nadal quickly regained the advantage with another break for a 3-1 lead, aided by Cobolli’s third double fault. Nadal efficiently served out the set to secure the triumph.
Despite his victory, Nadal’s performance on serve was solid yet subdued, lacking in aces and explosive power, yet effective enough to outmaneuver his opponent and claim the win.
“I’ve gone months without being able to serve, (and) although I’ve got a lot of excitement to play here and do the best I can, I’m not going to go crazy with the serve,” added Nadal.
“I have to serve with caution that the moment I’m in dictates… there are moments in which I feel more liberated and others in which I’m more careful.”
(ToI With AFP inputs)