Nadal cool on expectations after winning injury return

Agence France-Presse
Nadal cool on expectations after winning injury return
Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Italy's Flavio Cobolli during the ATP Barcelona Open "Conde de Godo" tennis tournament singles match at the Real Club de Tenis in Barcelona, on April 16, 2024.
Pau Barrena / AFP

BARCELONA, Spain – Rafael Nadal said he had limited expectations at the Barcelona Open as he made a triumphant return from injury on Tuesday (Wednesday Manila time), beating Italy's Flavio Cobolli 6-2, 6-3.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion had not played a competitive match since January but eased past the 62nd-ranked Cobolli in 85 minutes to reach the second round.

The former World No. 1 has seen his ranking slip to 644 after missing all of the 2023 season following the Australian Open. His comeback at the start of this year hit a stumbling block when he felt a hip injury flare up in Brisbane.

For Nadal, a 12-time winner in Barcelona, it was his first appearance on clay since he won the French Open almost two years ago, but the Spaniard was keen not to get ahead of himself.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, last week's Monte Carlo Masters champion, said earlier this week he wouldn't be surprised to see Nadal to reach the final on a court named after him.

"Today to say that I am favorite I think is stupidity, Tsitsipas knows that it's not the case," said Nadal, who turns 38 in June.

"I understand what he says as respect for what I have done in this tournament. Everybody knows I am not favorite to win a tournament."

"I didn't have the slightest idea if I was favorite today, I know tomorrow I will not be," added Nadal, who plays fourth seed Alex de Minaur on Wednesday for a place in the last 16.

"But it doesn't matter, I will go out and play and it will be an experience against a top level player."

After a double fault to fall 30-0 behind Nadal found his rhythm, with Cobolli intimidated by the fervent support for the Spaniard on the court named after him.

Nadal converted his third break point in the fourth game for a 3-1 lead, with Cobolli surviving four more to hold at 4-2 down.

The Spaniard broke again to claim the set in 43 minutes, clenching his fist in celebration.

Cobolli handed Nadal a break for 2-0 in the second set with two more unforced errors but finally put some pressure on Nadal's serve in the third game to break back.

However Nadal broke again for 3-1 after Cobolli's third double fault and served it out to triumph.

"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."

Brandon Nakashima dumped a raging Andrey Rublev out in the first round with a 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) victory.

The American, ranked 87th, ousted the world number eight, who made five double faults and only forced one break point in the match.

Nakashima edged the first set by breaking the Russian in the ninth game for 5-4 and then surviving a break point before serving out.

Rublev, second seed at the tournament, saved four second-set break points but tumbled to defeat in the tie-break after sending a backhand long.

The Russian smashed his racket repeatedly on the ground before storming off.

Carlos Alcaraz, champion in Barcelona in 2022 and 2023, withdrew on Sunday with a forearm injury.

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