Rafael Nadal Admits: 'Things are much better than I expected'

Rafael Nadal played well against Carlos Alcaraz in Las Vegas

by Jovica Ilic
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Rafael Nadal Admits: 'Things are much better than I expected'
© David Becker / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

A 22-time Major winner Rafael Nadal has played only four matches in 2024, including an exhibition clash against Carlos Alcaraz in Las Vegas. Rafa lost to Carlos 3-6, 6-4, 14-12 after two hours, competing for the first time since January and taking positive notes from his performance, especially in the opening set.

Nadal will try to keep that pace in Indian Wells, entering only his fourth tournament since the beginning of 2023 and hoping to compete injury-free ahead of his beloved clay. The Spaniard has been dealing with a severe hip injury since last year's Australian Open, losing his rhythm and dropping out from the top-600 after missing almost an entire year.

Rafael Nadal, The Netflix Slam 2024© Candice Ward / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Rafa returned to action in the first week of 2024 in Brisbane, playing three matches but feeling the pain again, withdrawing from the Australian Open.

After a couple of weeks off the court, Nadal is ready for another run, facing Milos Raonic in the first round in Indian Wells. Rafa and Carlos enjoyed a great night at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas at The Netflix Slam, keeping the crowd and their colleagues entertained.

Both players entered the duel after taking a break due to injuries and looked good on the court. Rafa claimed the opener and led 7-5 in the match tie break. Also, he stood two points away from the win four times, but it was not to be for him, with Carlos crossing the finish line first after a thriller.

Nadal made an early break in the first set and controlled the pace with good serving. The veteran closed the opening game with an unreturned serve and earned a break point in the next one when his rival sprayed a forehand error.

Carlos hit a double fault, losing serve and pushing Rafa in front. The third game reached deuce because Nadal closed it with two crafty volleys, cementing the advantage and moving 3-0 in front.

Carlos Alcaraz & Rafael Nadal, The Netflix Slam 2024© Candice Ward / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal is pleased with his level from the clash against Carlos Alcaraz.

Carlos reduced the deficit with a service winner in game four, and Rafa responded with a forced error in the next one for 4-1.

Alcaraz closed the sixth game with a powerful serve and reached another deuce a few minutes later. Nadal stayed focused and clinched it with two forehand winners, opening a 5-2 gap. World no. 2 extended the battle with an unreturned serve in game eight, leaving the veteran to serve for the set at 5-3.

Rafa did that in style, landing a service winner down the T line and wrapping up the opener 6-3 in 37 minutes. Carlos closed the first game of the second set with a smash winner and created his first chances on the return in the next one after a forehand winner.

Alcaraz seized the second after Nadal's double fault, opening a 2-0 advantage and holding at 30 in game three with an ace. Rafa trailed 30-0 in the fourth game, risking another break before playing four solid shots and securing the game with a forehand winner.

Carlos produced another fine hold in the fifth game with a winner at the net and made another push on the return at 4-1. Rafa played against four break points, erasing them with winners and holding with a smash winner, remaining within one break deficit.

Alcaraz held at 30 in game seven, moving 5-2 up and forcing his compatriot to serve to stay in the set. Nadal brought the eighth game home and created three break chances a few minutes later after Alcaraz's loose volley at the net.

Rafael Nadal, The Netflix Slam 2024© Candice Ward / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Carlos hit a double fault on the second, bringing Rafa back to the positive side of the scoreboard. World no. 2 left that setback behind and earned a set point on the return in game ten with a drop shot winner.

Alcaraz seized it with a forehand crosscourt winner, taking the set in 49 minutes and extending the battle. Nadal landed a forehand winner for 1-1 before losing the next point on serve. Rafa opened a 4-3 gap when Carlos sprayed a forehand error and forged a 7-5 lead when the young gun repeated a similar mistake.

Alcaraz erased the deficit and leveled the score at 7-7 with a backhand crosscourt winner before earning two match points with a volley winner in the 16th point. Carlos missed the first after a forehand error, and Rafa saved the second with a thrilling forehand winner, locking the result at 9-9 and extending the battle.

Alcaraz moved 10-9 ahead with a forehand down the line winner, earning his third match point. The young gun netted a running forehand, keeping Nadal at 10-10. Rafa saved the fourth match point after Carlos' forehand error, doing his best to prevail.

Alcaraz missed the fifth match point at 12-12 with another forehand error before landing a winner for 13-12. Carlos seized the sixth match point when Rafa missed a forehand, emerging at the top and completing a great night in Las Vegas.

Rafael Nadal Carlos Alcaraz
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