Rafael Nadal makes winning return in singles after being a year out injured | Tennis News

Rafael Nadal may not have made a winning return to tennis after being sidelined for nearly 12 months with a hip injury, going down in men’s doubles alongside Marc Lopez last Sunday, but in the category in which he won 22 Grand Slams and 70 other ATP titles, the Spaniard reigned supreme on Tuesday. Facing familiar rival Dominic Thiem in his Brisbane International opener, the wildcard entrant emerged victoriously at the end of an hour and 30 minutes of high-intensity tennis at the Pat Rafter Arena, winning 7-5, 6-1 to progress to the pre-quarters.

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts after winning the first set in his match against Dominic Thiem of Austria during the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 2(AP)

It was Nadal’s first competitive singles match in 349 days, having last played in the Australian Open 2023 where he had injured his left hip flexor during a shock second-round loss, before undergoing surgery later in June. But his Brisbane show, in front of a packed crowd, which included his father Sebastian, gave an immediate reminder of what he is capable of. His slick movement and sharp reflexes at the nets were as much noticeable as his lethal forehand.

Wrap up the year gone by & gear up for 2024 with HT! Click here

The opening set looked tight with neither player wanting to concede on serve, especially Nadal, who held to love four times and lost just three points before securing the first break of the match in the 12th game after some loose groundstrokes from Thiem. The 92-time tour-level titlist did let slip the first three in that game, but made no error in securing the fourth to gain a lead in their 16th ATP meeting.

Nadal maintained his level of dominance in the second set as he broke Thiem in the second and sixth games, and remained impeccable on serve. He won 90 per cent of (28/31) of points behind his first serve in the match and lost just three points on his second serve, while also hitting 12 winners.

“Today is honestly an emotional and important day for me after probably one of the toughest years of my tennis career, without a doubt,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “I had the chance to come back after a year and play in front of an amazing crowd and play, I think, at a very positive level.

“On the first day, it is something that makes us feel proud. Myself, all the team and family that have been there every single day during the past year.”

The win in Brisbane took his tally of career tour-level victories to 1069 as he surpassed fellow former World No. 1 Ivan Lendl on the all-time leaderboard. The Spaniard now stands behind Jimmy Connors (1274), Roger Federer (1251) and Novak Djokovic (1088).

Nadal will next face eighth seed Aslan Karatsev or home wild card Jason Kubler in the round of 16 in Brisbane, where he is competing for the first time since 2017.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *