Nadal comeback ends in Barcelona Open second round

Published April 18, 2024
SPAIN’S Rafael Nadal in action during the Barcelona Open match against Alex de Minaur of Australia at Real Club de Tenis on Wednesday.—Reuters
SPAIN’S Rafael Nadal in action during the Barcelona Open match against Alex de Minaur of Australia at Real Club de Tenis on Wednesday.—Reuters

BARCELONA: Rafael Nadal suffered his first defeat on his return to tennis after injury as he fell 7-5, 6-1 against Alex de Minaur on Wednesday in the Barcelona Open second round.

The 22-time Grand Slam title winner, back on court this week after three months on the sidelines, battled well but eventually crumbled against the hard-working world number 11 from Australia.

Nadal, 37, who missed virtually all of the 2023 season, is hoping to compete at the French Open in May where he is the record 14-time champion.

The Spaniard, who has won the Barcelona clay-court title on 12 occasions, had eased past Flavio Cobolli on Tuesday in his first ATP Tour match since January, but said he was not favourite against De Minaur who has now won his last two clashes against the former world number one.

It proved a far tougher challenge and despite showing flashes of his supreme quality on the court named after him, Nadal came up short in what he said he believes is his final appearance at the tournament.

The Australian broke in the first game and tested Nadal with a series of brilliant drop shots which Nadal could not reach.

However Nadal hit back with a break of his own in the sixth game and consolidated with a fizzing backhand for a 4-3 lead.

De Minaur broke to love to take a 6-5 lead as Nadal went wide and sealed the first set when the Spaniard pushed a shot into the net, winning the final 10 points as Nadal started to struggle.

The 25-year-old Australian broke for a 2-1 lead in the second set when Nadal could not return a powerful passing shot, and secured another break for 4-1.

De Minaur wrapped up his emphatic second set performance with a third break when Nadal went long.

Earlier on Wednesday, Norway’s three-time Grand Slam finalist Casper Ruud came out on top in an entertaining 6-3, 6-4 match with Alexandre Muller to reach the third round.

The 25-year-old Norwegian, runner up at the Monte Carlo Masters last week, was broken twice in the first set and allowed Muller to save 10 of 14 break points.

However, despite his sloppiness Ruud still took the set.

The third seed looked to have sealed the match when he broke his French journeyman opponent in the third game of the second set.

However, the world number six gave up four break points while serving for the match to allow 27-year-old Muller back in at 5-4.

Ruud, though, was more clinical in the next game, breaking Muller to progress with his 25th victory in 2024.

“This year is much better than last year, I’m having a good year,” said Ruud, who defeated world number one Novak Djokovic last week.

Ruud will now face Jordan Thompson of Australia, who defeated Spain’s Jaume Munar 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, in the next round.

In the day’s other match, Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic also reached the last 16 after defeating Frenchman Ugo Humbert, the No 6 seed, 6-4, 6-4 at Real Club de Tenis Lajovic will now face Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who got a walk over victory against To­mas Machac of the Czech Rep­ublic, in the next round.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2024

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