Rafael Nadal's Desert Revival: Doha Welcomes a Tennis Legend



by JOVICA ILIC

Rafael Nadal's Desert Revival: Doha Welcomes a Tennis Legend
© Chris Hyde / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

The rumors were true, as Rafael Nadal scheduled his comeback for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha which starts on February 19! The ATP 250 event will witness the return of the Spanish maestro alongside Russian heavyweights Daniil Medvedev, Andrey Rublev, and Karen Khachanov.

Armed with a protected ranking, Rafa is determined to make a triumphant return after facing a setback in Brisbane at the beginning of the season. The Spaniard experienced a micro tear in the muscle around his troubled left hip in the quarter-final against Jordan Thompson.

Despite a valiant effort that lasted three hours and 25 minutes, Nadal ended up on the losing side, missing three match points in the second set. Following an MRI in Melbourne, Rafa made the difficult decision to withdraw from the Australian Open, opting for a cautious approach to ensure a complete recovery.

The injury is not serious, and Nadal will compete again in a couple of weeks, entering Doha for the first time in eight years.

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

Rafael Nadal will continue his season in Doha from February 19.

This decision comes after the most extended break of Nadal's illustrious career and takes a risk.

A 22-time Major winner will compete on hard courts again, bypassing the simultaneous South American clay swing, his familiar ground after extended breaks caused by injuries. This move echoes Nadal's determination to participate in Doha, a tournament he aimed to enter last year but could not due to a hip injury.

Rafa's history in Doha is rich, having visited the desert ATP 250 event eight times between 2005 and 2016. He lost the 2010 final to Nikolay Davydenko and emerged victorious four years later against Gael Monfils, lifting the beautiful trophy.

During his last Doha appearance in 2016, Rafa reached the final but suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of world no. 1 Novak Djokovic in a brisk encounter lasting only an hour and 13 minutes. Nadal played four matches in 2023, injuring his left hip in the Australian Open second round and skipping the rest of the year.

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

The Spaniard underwent surgery in June and started his comeback a few months later, making slow steps on the practice court and the gym.

Feeling positive signs of recovery, Nadal arranged his long-awaited comeback for the first week of 2024 in Brisbane. Nadal played his first match in 349 days against Dominic Thiem, performing well and breaking the rival's resistance at 5-5 in the opener.

Rafa took down Jason Kubler in the second round after another rock-solid performance on serve and return, preserving energy and setting the quarter-final duel with Jordan Thompson. Nadal missed a massive chance to seal the deal and maybe avoid an injury, wasting three match points in a tight 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 loss after nearly three and a half hours of a titanic battle.

The veteran felt the pain around his hip after a massive physical effort, requiring a medical timeout in the middle of the decider. Rafa fought until the end and lost the set 6-3 after one break on Jordan's tally. Nadal revealed a micro tear in his muscle and withdrew from the Australian Open, avoiding the best-of-five duels and experiencing a massive blow.

Rafa should be ready for another run in Doha in a month, with a risk of facing the rivals from the top right from the first match.

Rafael Nadal