The nightmare of having to say goodbye to tennis without unleashing that fantastic and explosive forehand on the court. The doubts that characterized the long rehabilitation process. Almost a year after the serious injury suffered at the 2023 Australian Open, Rafael Nadal returned to the court with a victory.
The Spanish champion could only answer the numerous question marks about his physical condition with a more than convincing performance. a performance that allowed him to overcome Dominic Thiem with a score of 7-5, 6-1 in an hour and 29 minutes of play.
The Majorcan always tried to be aggressive and never lose ground both when coming out of serve and with the first shots in the Austrian's serving rounds.
Both started the match well, but Nadal never allowed Thiem to really threaten himself. The turning point came at 6-5 in favor of the Spaniard, when Thiem showed too much uncertainty and missed a comfortable forehand on the fourth set point conceded to Nadal.
The confidence of the Austrian decreased as the minutes passed and the Spaniard took advantage of it at the start of the second set. A backhand pass allowed him to get the break and quickly move up 3-0. Nadal doubled his lead and at 4-1 inflicted the knockout blow on a Thiem who was now out of the dispute from a mental point of view.
Rafael Nadal wants rule. Again.
"I felt good, especially when the crowd supports you like that. It was the longest time I had gone without participating in a tournament since I started my career. Coming back and feeling the affection of the public is a fantastic feeling.
Today was an emotional and important day." Even just imagining a return like this might have seemed risky, but Rafael Nadal has no desire to stop surprising. When you think he won't be able to compete at high levels, Rafa returns and gets everyone to agree between a backhand passer and a loaded forehand down the line.
Almost a year after the last match played on the circuit, the Spaniard overwhelmed Dominic Thiem with a clear 7-5, 6-1 and gained access to the second round of the ATP 250 tournament in Brisbane, where he will meet Jason Kubler.
"Anything can happen after so long in the pits. You take to the field and you don't know what to expect: a negative day or a normal, positive one.
I think I experienced the latter scenario. It was a more than positive day. I played well without making many mistakes both in terms of free throws and in terms of decisions to make. I chose the shots to play well and it's a difficult thing to do after being out for so long.
I'm really happy," said Nadal at the press conference. "Nothing has changed for me. It's just a positive start. The most important thing is to stay healthy, honestly. My approach won't change after this match. I want to enjoy every single day that I get the chance to play.
It would be fantastic, as well as a great surprise, to be competitive now, but the real goal is to be competitive in two months. The priority is to stay healthy. If I am able to do that, then, the chances of being competitive again in a not very long period of time become higher.
I will never forget how to play tennis, you have to regain your confidence and movements. We need time."
From the hip surgery to the long rehabilitation period: Nadal's mind was overwhelmed by many thoughts before taking to the court.
"Thoughts? First of all, the emotion of returning to the pitch after a long time and after a very tough journey. Second, however, are the doubts about physical performance. I trained well, but when you enter the field you always have doubts.
It's not something I say to protect myself. I don't need it. I don't want to use any excuse. The people around me know how I felt a month and a half ago. I'm speaking from the heart and I'm very honest with all of you," he explained.
The Spaniard, in his first taste of the season, immediately showed good psycho-physical form. A warning to all his rivals. He swept away the doubts that hovered around his weak form. It's still too early, but the conditions are more than good.
Nadal has no intention of leaving the Tour as a simple supporting player: he wants to be a leading actor, breaking the hegemony of Djokovic and the young Next Gen, shatter the balance and dominate. Again.