Tennis: Nadal Makes Triumphant Return At Barcelona Open


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.

However, 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, 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. “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.”

Nadal received a hero’s welcome as he strode out onto the court that bears his name; although there were a few loose forehands in the early stages, the 22-time Grand Slam champion was too strong for Cobolli.

The young Italian understandably looked nervous, and contributed to the score line with far too many errors, but a big factor in that was the pressure being exerted from the other end of the court.

A blip came when Nadal, who is set to retire at some point this season, played a poor game to drop serve for the first time in the third game of the second set, but he had already broken Cobolli and quickly restored his advantage.

There were some vintage forehands from Nadal in the final stages and he clinched victory when Cobolli netted a final backhand, thrusting his fist into the air.

The 12-time champion in Barcelona will face fourth seed Alex De Minaur of Australia in the second round as he continues to gear up to the start of the French Open on May 20, where he is a record 14-time winner.

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