Rafael Nadal's Uncle Alerts: 'He Needs More Challenging Rivals'

Rafael Nadal is off to a winning start to the season in Brisbane

by Jovica Ilic
Rafael Nadal's Uncle Alerts: 'He Needs More Challenging Rivals'
© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

After missing almost a year, Rafael Nadal is back on the winning way! A 22-time Major winner ended his break from tennis in Brisbane, scoring two commanding victories and reaching the quarter-final. Rafa's uncle Toni is thrilled about his nephew's level, admitting he is in much better shape than they assumed.

However, Toni wants to see Rafa against the more challenging rivals in Brisbane and Melbourne, which will give them more answers. Rafa played only four matches in 2023, injuring his hip in the second round of the Australian Open and missing almost the entire season.

After surgery and months on the practice court, Nadal decided to extend his career in Brisbane, looking good and playing like he never left. Rafa's first rival of the season was his old opponent Dominic Thiem, and the Spaniard earned a 7-5, 6-1 victory in an hour and 29 minutes.

Performing for the first time after 349 days, Nadal looked good and dangerous, avoiding errors and dominating with his serve and forehand. The veteran barely lost a point in his games, never facing a break point and keeping the pressure on the other side.

Thiem stayed in touch in the first half of the match, reaching 5-5 in the opener before fading from the court after experiencing three breaks. It was important for Rafa to make a reliable start, and he tamed his strokes nicely.

Both players served well in the opening games, and Thiem locked the result at 4-4 with a service winner in game eight. Nadal fired an ace in game nine for 5-4, keeping the pressure on the other side.

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

The Austrian survived it and cracked a forehand down the line winner for 5-5 and more drama.

Rafa secured the 11th game with a forehand down the line winner and stepped in on the return in the next one. Thiem faced three set points and defended them to prolong his chances. Rafa earned his fourth set point and converted it after Dominic's wayward forehand, wrapping up the opener after 55 minutes and gaining a boost.

Nadal played well on the return at 1-0 in the second set, passing Thiem with a booming backhand crosscourt winner and moving a set and a break in front. Rafa held at love for 3-0 and brought the fifth game home from 15-30, keeping his initial shot intact.

Serving at 1-4, Thiem sprayed another forehand error, losing serve and pushing Nadal closer to the finish line. Rafa landed a winner at the net at 5-1, sealing the deal in style and celebrating his first victory in almost a year.

Toni Nadal is happy but cautious about Rafa's progress.

Nadal faced Jason Kubler in the second round and produced a dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory in an hour and 24 minutes, reaching his 225th ATP quarter-final. Kubler struggled with his right hand, not matching Nadal's pace in the opener and playing a bit better in set number two.

Rafa defended all four break points, three in the opening set's closing stages after being miles in front. He stole 52% of the return points and turned them into four breaks from six chances, enough to sail over the top. Rafa held at 15 in the first game and created three break chances in the second game after drawing Jason's forehand error.

The Spaniard converted the first with a forehand crosscourt winner, forging an early lead and settling into a fine rhythm. Rafa moved 3-0 in front after a hold at love, firing a service winner and preparing to make more damage on the return in the next one.

The Aussie had a chance to get his name on the scoreboard in game four. Kubler saved two break points and earned four game points, squandering them and keeping Nadal in the game. Rafa converted the third break chance with a crafty behind-the-back volley winner at the net, forging a 4-0 advantage.

Nadal moved 5-0 up with another successful serve & forehand combo, looking good to attack the bagel in the next one. Kubler received a medical timeout and raised his level a bit, holding in game six with a winner at the net and prolonging the set.

Suddenly, Rafa found himself 40-0 behind in the seventh game while serving for the set. The veteran saved three break points, two with service winners and wrapped up the set 6-1 after 41 minutes. Kubler hit a couple of loose shots at the start of the second set, losing serve and extending his downfall.

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

Nadal held for 2-0 before facing a break point in game four. Jason fought well in those moments, challenging Rafa from the baseline. The Spaniard erased a break point with a forehand winner after a lucky net cord and fired another for 3-1.

The Aussie served well in the fifth game, remaining within one break deficit. Nadal responded with four forehand winners in the sixth game, opening a 4-2 gap and shifting the momentum to the next game. The Spaniard came from 40-15 down and earned a break point when the Aussie sprayed a massive forehand error.

Jason placed another forehand wide, losing serve and allowing Rafa to serve for the victory at 5-2. Nadal earned three match points with a forehand down the line winner and cracked a backhand crosscourt winner for another impressive triumph and a place in the quarter-final.

"Rafa can be delighted with his level in the first two matches. It's an excellent start, but we must see him against more challenging opponents. Things are looking better than we expected," Toni Nadal said.

Rafael Nadal