Rafael Nadal stands behind Novak Djokovic after passing Ivan Lendl

Rafael Nadal is the fourth player in the Open era with 1069 ATP victories

by Jovica Ilic
Rafael Nadal stands behind Novak Djokovic after passing Ivan Lendl
© Bradley Kanaris / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal made a winning start to the season in Brisbane, defeating Dominic Thiem in the first round. It was Nadal's first match in almost a year, struggling with a hip injury and playing only four encounters in 2023. Victory over Thiem was Nadal's 1069th ATP triumph, finally passing Ivan Lendl and joining Jimmy Connors, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at the top of the list.

If things were better, Rafa would have passed Ivan in the summer of 2022. However, he had struggled with injuries for almost a year and a half, barely scoring any wins and staying tied with the Czech for nearly a year. The Spaniard is finally back on track, and we should expect more from him in the rest of the season if he remains injury-free.

Nadal toppled Thiem 7-5, 6-1 in an hour and 29 minutes, celebrating a milestone victory in style. Rafa did not know what to expect after the most extended break of his career.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Bradley Kanaris / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

However, he was ready to enjoy on the court regardless of the result, happy to compete again.

A 22-time Major winner did that and much more, delivering decent tennis and outplaying his old rival in their 16th duel on the Tour. Rafa played well on serve and return, never facing issues in his games and breaking the rival's resistance with three breaks on his tally.

Nadal fired up his initial shot right from the start, losing six points in his games and challenging Thiem to repeat those numbers. Dominic stayed in touch early on before losing ground in the opening set's closing stages. He lost the ground in the second set, propelling Rafa into the second round after getting broken three times.

Rafa tamed his strokes nicely, avoiding errors and covering the court nicely. His serve and groundstrokes worked well, and the legend left the court with a big smile.

Rafael Nadal scored his 1069th ATP victory in Brisbane.

The Spaniard kicked off the action like he never made a break from tennis, holding at love in the encounter's first game.

The Austrian locked the result at 1-1 with an ace before the veteran secured a hold at love a few minutes later with a volley winner. Thiem leveled the score at 2-2 with a volley winner, and Nadal built another lead after passing his opponent at the net in the next one.

They stayed neck and neck in the upcoming games, with Dominic locking the result at 4-4 after 33 minutes. Nadal fired an ace in game nine for 5-4, forcing Thiem to serve to stay in the set. Dominic responded with a forehand down the line winner, staying in touch and looking good to reach a tie break.

Rafa delivered another fine hold in game 11, cracking a forehand down the line winner and sending the pressure back to Dominic's side. Thiem felt the pressure at 5-6 and manifested it. He faced three set points and defended them with good hitting, hoping to get out of jail.

Instead, Nadal earned his fourth set point with a forehand winner and converted it after the rival's forehand error, clinching the opener 7-5 after 55 minutes and gaining a boost. Not stopping there, Rafa produced a hold at love at the beginning of the second set and saught the second consecutive break.

Nadal passed Thiem with a cracking backhand crosscourt winner in game two, earning a break and extending his streak. The Spaniard cemented it with a hold at love in game three, looking ruthless behind the initial shot. Thiem ended his downfall with a hold in game four before Nadal held in the next one from 15-30 to open a 4-1 gap.

Rafa placed a deep return in game six for a break point, looking eager to break the rival's resistance. He converted it after Dominic's forehand error, earning his third break and serving for the victory at 5-1.

Rafael Nadal, Brisbane 2024© Bradley Kanaris / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Nadal sealed the deal with a touchy winner at the net, celebrating a notable victory after missing almost a year.

Thus, Rafa finally moved in front of Ivan Lendl, standing 20 ATP wins behind his closest rival, Novak Djokovic. Jimmy Connors leads the chart with 1274 ATP wins, and Roger Federer follows him with 1251. Nadal may not play long enough to catch them, but we should see him and Djokovic passing the 1100-win mark in the rest of the season.

Rafa sailed through uncharted waters after such a long break, not knowing what to expect from his body. He wished to play a farewell tour in 2024 and compete at his favorite events before ending his glorious career. Now, things are looking much better for a 22-time Major winner, and we should see more from him in the next year or two if he stays competitive and avoids injuries. Rafa will face Jason Kubler in the second round in Brisbane, hoping for another good performance.

Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic Ivan Lendl