Rafael Nadal stronger than age, surgeries and adverse weather: he can rule again

The Spanish champion returned to compete after a season out, at 37 years, after surgery and in difficult weather conditions. And he looks in great shape, which is why in a few months, at the Roland Garros, he will be the man to beat

by Lorenzo Ciotti
Rafael Nadal stronger than age, surgeries and adverse weather: he can rule again
© Chris Hyde / Stringer Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal amazed everyone in his first two performances at the Brisbane International 2024. Few would have expected that the Spanish champion could return in such good form already. Nadal faced Jordan Thompson in the quarterfinal, but before that the former ATP No.1 eliminated Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler without any particular worries.

What we saw in the matches with Thiem, Kubler and Thompson was an extremely positive sign. First of all because the injury to the psoas muscle currently seems like just a distant memory. Then because, objectively, it seems no time has passed since the match against McDonald at the Australian Open 2023.

Nadal© Chris Hyde / Stringer Getty Images Sport

The first matches played at the Brisbane International 2024 showed a fit, motivated, charismatic, mentally solid tennis player. Then there is an aspect that in my opinion is fundamental.

Nadal is playing (like all of his colleagues) in climatic conditions that present a lot of humidity and heat. He has been without official matches for a year, he has undergone a surgery and is 37 year-old, is there anything else to add? If this is his form - at his first official tournament after a year and in difficult weather conditions - can we imagine what he will be like at Clay-Swing? He will be a difficult opponent for anyone, including Novak Djokovic.

If this is the path to the Roland Garros, it seems clear that the Spaniard will be the man to beat in Paris.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Interviewed on Onda Cero Mallorca, his uncle Toni Nadal, Rafa's historic coach, said he was satisfied with what he had seen so far, but was waiting to see him face higher-level opponents first before giving a definitive judgement.

"Rafa can be very happy because the level he is showing is quite good. It's an exciting start, but we need to see him in more difficult matches. At the moment, things are going almost better than expected. Rafa has always had the ability to get back into shape very quickly.

Sometimes, after numerous injuries, he came back even better than before. This time it's more difficult because there are years and it's more complicated. Let's see if he can continue like this," said Toni. Rafa started the new year at position number 672 in the ranking but, with these two statements, he recovered 221 places in practically 4 days.

In fact, the winner of 22 Grand Slam titles currently occupies virtually the 451st position in the ranking.

Nadal© Chris Hyde / Stringer Getty Images Sport

Two victories were enough for Rafael Nadal to already gain many positions in the ATP world ranking, in which he had collapsed due to a 2023 season practically devoid of matches played.

The Spanish champion, after having fully recovered from the arthroscopic surgery to resolve the injury to the left iliopsoas, seems to have returned to the court in great shape. The great climb has just begun for him, who in the event of a semi-final would enter the top 350.

If the Spaniard managed to come back and win a tournament on the first try, he would get close to the top 200 waiting to find out what he will be able to achieve at the Australian Open. The career of the 22-time slam champion speaks for himself.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

But some numbers reflect his impressive consistency since he was a kid. This is the 21st season in which Nadal has reached the quarterfinals of at least one ATP tournament.

In front of him only three tennis players, Feliciano Lopez, who has 22, Jimmy Connors, with 23, and Roger Federer, who leads the rankings with 24. Nadal himself believes he still needs to improve his condition: "Something I need to work on considering that I haven't been in this position for some time.

I felt some sensations after my debut: I hadn't experienced the tension for a year of a real match and therefore the muscles were a little tired. But in general terms I felt good. The surgery on my hip and psoas muscle are not causing me any problems, and that is very important.

My foot is responding well and I can move without any limitations." The 37-year-old player is a threat to practically everyone given the very good level of play shown in these first matches: the Mallorcan's objective is naturally to improve from a physical and mental point of view to carry out the preparation on clay in the best possible way for the Roland Garros and then the Paris Olympics.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

In an interview with L'Equipe, Carlos Moyà, his coach, commented on the return in style of the 22-time slam champion, also trusting when, in his opinion, we will see the best version of his client again.

"I am very happy with his performance, especially if we know the circumstances. I couldn't ask for more than what happened against Dominic Thiem. There are always small things to improve, but everything will gradually fall into place.

The level was very good , probably better than we expected. Now we have to continue to evolve and progress game by game," he explained. As everyone knows, Nadal has Roland Garros as his favorite tournament, and he will try to get there in top physical condition: "I think we will see his best in the spring, towards March or April.

He will need about ten games to gain confidence, to find his rhythm again. I know he'll be back to his best. With Rafa you can expect anything, he is Rafa. The idea is to be 100% for Roland Garros. Maybe I will be sooner, maybe this week!

With Rafa you never know. He gets his magic from who knows where, that's why he's Rafa," added Moya.
Rafael Nadal's come back on the ATP Tour was probably the best news of this start of the season. The Spanish legend has experienced a 2023 full of doubts and uncertainties, spending more time in the infirmary than on the court.

Rafael Nadal Roland Garros