Nadal cruises in Barcelona return

Spaniard next meets fourth seed De Minaur
April 16, 2024
AFP/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal makes a winning return to clay on home soil in Barcelona. By ATP Staff

Rafael Nadal is back.

The Spaniard made a winning return Tuesday at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where the 12-time champion defeated Italian Flavio Cobolli 6-2, 6-3.

Nadal, 37, is playing just his second tournament of the year and first since January, when he made the quarter-finals of the ATP 250 in Brisbane.

"Every time it is more difficult and especially when you are at an advanced age, it makes things even tougher," Nadal said of his return. "I’m going through tough moments but at the same time, when I’m able to be on Tour for a few days and practise with the guys and then be able to compete a little bit, it means a lot to me. Still enjoyable enough to keep going. I'm happy to start with a victory without a doubt.”

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Nadal came firing out of the blocks, breaking the 21-year-old Cobolli in his second service game and jumping to a 4-1 lead. The former No. 1 in the PIF ATP Rankings opened his shoulders and sent his Italian opponent from corner to corner in lengthy baseline exchanges. World No. 62 Cobolli will rue his 41 unforced errors, 27 of which came in the 43-minute opening set.

Competing on the stadium court named after him, Nadal again raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set despite an early exchange of breaks. The home favourite was ultra aggressive on return, winning 64 per cent of his second-serve return points, according to Infosys ATP Stats.

The lefty produced a wide range of variety in front of a packed crowd at the Real Club de Tennis Barcelona 1899, defending deep behind the baseline at times before stepping in to strike hefty groundstrokes or deft drop shots.

Nadal won 78 per cent of his first-serve points (25/32) and sealed his first meeting with Cobolli after one hour, 25 minutes.

Wearing a purple kit and pink sweatbands, Nadal was playing his first clay-court match since winning his 14th Roland Garros trophy in 2022. Tuesday’s victory marked his 475th win on the surface.

The 92-time tour-level titlist will next meet fourth seed Alex de Minaur, whom Nadal leads 3-1 in their Lexus ATP Head2Head series. Nadal boasts a 67-4 match record at the ATP 500, where he first won the title in 2005 and most recently triumphed in 2021. This week marks his 17th appearance in Barcelona.

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