Rafael Nadal, a winning return to the clay court of Barcelona, ​​one month before Roland-Garros

This first round seemed as affordable as it was unprecedented

Rafael Nadal, a winning return to the clay court of Barcelona, ​​one month before Roland-Garros

This first round seemed as affordable as it was unprecedented. Opposed for the first time in his career to the young Italian Flavio Cobolli, 62nd in the world, Rafael Nadal did not hesitate in his return to competition, winning easily on Tuesday April 16 in the first round of the Barcelona tournament (6- 2, 6-3). Absent from the courts since January, and the tournament in Brisbane (Australia), the Mallorcan outclassed his opponent in 1 hour 24 minutes and even delighted the public – who gave him a standing ovation several times – by distributing some remarkably touched drop shots.

Never worried about his throw in the first set, Rafael Nadal quickly entered the match. Going up to the net, cushioning, forehand slaps, the Spaniard showed himself to be more and more solid as the game progressed, facing an opponent who was quickly overwhelmed – 41 direct errors – and unable to free himself. Although he was a little rushed on his first match point, the former world number one made the second, and qualifies for the second round, where he will face the 11th player in the world, the Australian Alex de Minaur, 25 years (Tuesday at 4 p.m.).

The one who has won Roland-Garros fourteen times has passed his first test, for his first match in official competition in three months. On January 5, he lost in the quarter-final of the Brisbane tournament against Jordan Thompson (33rd in the world), before withdrawing from the Australian Open due to a hip injury. Due to abdominal pain which prevented him from serving, he also canceled his participation in the Masters 1000 in Monte-Carlo at the beginning of April, which opens the season on clay, his favorite surface. In 2023, repeated injuries had kept the former world number 1 off the courts for almost the entire season.

“It’s a gift to be in Barcelona. I consider this my last year and I want to try to enjoy every moment,” Rafael Nadal said at a press conference on Monday April 15. At 37 years old and with physical problems multiplying, retirement is fast approaching for the Majorcan. The challenge ? A final lap at Roland Garros, the Grand Slam tournament that he has won the most (14 times, for 22 Grand Slam trophies), the 2024 edition of which will begin on May 20. He has not won a title since his last coronation in Paris in June 2022.

“I wouldn't be surprised to see Rafa in the final in Barcelona because he has done it again and again for years,” said Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, winner in Monte Carlo on April 14. This Catalan tournament, nicknamed the “Conde de Godo” and whose central court bears his name, Rafael Nadal has already won twelve times. The last, in 2021, against Tsitsipas, in three sets.