Rafael Nadal to face familiar rival in blockbuster Brisbane opener | Tennis News

Rafael Nadal was denied a grand return to Australia after he went down 4-6, 4-6 in men’s doubles alongside Marc Lopez, with whom he had won the 2016 Olympics gold in Rio on Sunday, but the Spaniard is yet to make his long-awaited return in singles for the first time since he had incurred an injury in Australian Open earlier this year, which left him on the sidelines for the remainder of the season. And Nadal is all set to face a familiar rival Dominic Thiem in his first singles match at the Brisbane International opener on Tuesday.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal attends a press conference at the Brisbane International tennis tournament in Brisbane on December 31, 2023(AFP)

Nadal, who was handed a wild card for the ATP 250 event in Brisbane, was drawn against a qualifier, and on Sunday, Thiem set up a clash against the 22-time Grand Slam winner. The 2020 US Open winner, now ranked 98 in the world, has been looking to make a strong comeback for over a year since returning from an injury break. On Saturday, the Austrian bounced back impressively from 6-2, 5-3 (40-0) down to beat James Mccabe 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 in his first qualifying match in Brisbane before coming from a set down to beat Giulio Zeppieri 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to book a date with Nadal.

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Nadal and Thiem, who practised together last week in Brisbane, have faced each other 15 times on the tour, with the Spaniard leading the rivalry 9-6. However, Thiem won both their last two meetings – at the 2020 ATP Finals in Turin, where he emerged victoriously in two tiebreak sets and at the quarterfinals in the 2020 Australian Open. The Spaniard however leads 3-2 on hardcourts and 5-1 in Grand Slams.

The match will mark the return of Nadal to singles action for the first time in 347 days, the longest he has been off the tour in his injury-laden career. The 37-year-old had injured his left hip flexor during his second-round exit in the 2023 Australian Open before undergoing surgery in June.

Ahead of the long-awaited return, Nadal said that he is not thinking of winning tournaments yet and is rather focused on enjoying his comeback to tennis.

“It’s impossible to think about winning tournaments today,” Nadal said in Brisbane. “What’s really possible is to enjoy the comeback. I don’t expect much; one year without being on the court.”

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