Nadal to return at Barcelona, with de Minaur on horizon

|

Rafael Nadal training in Barcelona ahead of his return to action this week after three months out.
Rafael Nadal training in Barcelona ahead of his return to action this week after three months out.

Rafael Nadal has confirmed he will play this week’s Barcelona Open in what will be the Spaniard’s first tournament since the Brisbane International in January.

And if he wins his opening match he will face Australian No.1 Alex de Minaur in the second round.

“I arrived here a bit like in a last minute decision as I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play,” the 22-time grand slam champion told a press conference on Monday.

“Tomorrow I’m going to be on the court.”

It is likely to be the court that bears his name.

Rafael Nadal
A rueful Rafael Nadal leaves court in Brisbane after losing to Jordan Thompson in January. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

His first match will be against 21-year-old Italian Flavio Cobolli on Tuesday. The winner will meet de Minaur, who has received a first round bye. The pair have met four times but only once since 2020, in the United Cup last year when de Minaur, on home soil, beat the Spanish great.

Whoever comes through could then play another Australian, Alexei Popyrin, who starts his tournament against Daniel Altmaier with the winner to face Arthur Fils. 

The third Australian in the event, Jordan Thompson, has a first round bye. Partnering de Minaur he lost on Monday in the doubles to fourth-seeded pair Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Santiago Gonzalez 6-2 7-5.

It was Thompson who was across the net the last time Nadal played, the third round loss in Brisbane coming after almost a year out for Nadal, sidelined by a hip flexor injury.

Nadal, 37, withdrew from last week’s Monte Carlo Masters, saying his body was not ready for competition. The former world No.1 has said he expects to retire after this season but is desperate to play at next month’s French Open where he has won a record 14 titles.

He has won the Barcelona title on 12 occasions but has not played in the claycourt event since 2021.

On court Roberto Bautista Agut earned his 399th tour-level victory by defeating Roman Safiullin 6-3 7-6 (10-8) on Rafael Nadal court. The Spaniard, who turned 36 on Sunday, will have his first opportunity to reach the milestone 400th win against seventh-seeded Karen Khachanov on Tuesday.

Qualifier Nick Hardt became the first Dominican to win an ATP match in six years after defeating Martin Landaluce 2-6 6-4 6-3 while American Brandon Nakashima defeated 2023 semifinalist Daniel Evans, of Britain, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2.

Reuters