Picture: Rafael Nadal trains with Hugo Dellien ahead of Barcelona

Rafael Nadal will compete for the first time since the first week of the season

by Jovica Ilic
Picture: Rafael Nadal trains with Hugo Dellien ahead of Barcelona
© Cameron Spencer / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal is preparing for his 17th Barcelona Open appearance, facing Flavio Cobolli in the first round on Tuesday. Nadal came to Barcelona last week and practiced with a couple of players, including Hugo Dellien, who was thrilled to share the court with a 22-time Major winner.

Rafa has not played since the opening week of the season in Brisbane, experiencing a couple of setbacks and hoping for a better run at the event where the central court carries his name. The veteran felt the pain around his hip in Brisbane following a massive battle against Jordan Thompson.

Nadal skipped the Australian Open and returned to the practice court at home in Mallorca a few weeks later. More challenges were waiting around the corner, with the legend experiencing abdominal issues.

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

Rafa withdrew from Doha and Indian Wells, training at home and hoping for a better run on his beloved clay.

Nadal could not recover in time for Monte Carlo, and he will make another push in Barcelona, embracing only his eighth match since the beginning of 2023! Rafa has an incredible record in Barcelona, winning 66 out of 70 encounters and lifting 12 trophies from as many finals!

The home star tested his body versus Andrey Rublev and Hugo Dellien, deciding to compete and embracing his first Barcelona Open match since 2021. Nadal debuted in Barcelona 21 years ago at 16, losing to Alex Corretja. Rafa bounced back two years later, starting his reign and claiming five consecutive titles.

Nadal skipped Barcelona in 2010 and restored the order in 2011 with three more consecutive titles without losing a set! Rafa suffered his second and third Barcelona Open losses in 2014 and 2015 and returned to his best between 2016 and 2018, conquering three titles in straight sets.

Dominic Thiem delivered Nadal's fourth Barcelona loss in the 2019 quarter-final, and the Spaniard made his previous appearance memorable. Rafa clinched his 12th Barcelona Open trophy three years ago following an epic 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in three hours and 37 minutes.

Nadal saved a match point in the tenth game of the final set and grabbed the final three games to emerge at the top, keeping his perfect record in the title clashes at one of his beloved events.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2021© Alex Caparros / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Rafael Nadal trained with Hugo Dellien in Barcelona ahead of his first match.

Rafa will give his best this week, although he does not think about winning the title or anything else except competing injury-free.

The Spaniard tried to work on his serve during the practice runs, shaping up his groundstrokes and movement after an extended break. Nadal will throw everything at Roland Garros and the Olympic Games in what could be his final season on the Tour, hoping to chase tennis glory one more time.

As we already said, Dellien was thrilled to practice with Rafa over four years after their only official match on the Tour. Nadal entered the 2020 Australian Open as world no. 1 and faced Dellien in the first round. The favorite scored a dominant 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 win in two hours and two minutes, controlling the pace and sailing over the finish line.

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

Rafa took charge and fired 38 winners and 21 unforced errors, facing five break points and suffering two breaks after building the advantage.

The Bolivian struggled behind both serves, giving away over half of the points in his games and losing serve eight times from 18 opportunities offered to the world's best player. Rafa made a reliable start, holding in the first game of the encounter and landing a forehand down the line winner in the next one for a break and a 2-0 lead.

Hugo could have pulled the break back in game three, creating two break points and squandering them with unforced errors. Dellien experienced another blow in the fourth game, missing five game points and landing a forehand wide to lose serve and fall 4-0 behind.

Hugo held in the sixth game and made a push on the return in the next one. The Bolivian created two break points and grabbed a break after the Spaniard's mistake, reducing the deficit to 5-2. Rafa left that setback behind and converted the third set point on the return in game eight with a forced error, wrapping up the opener 6-2 after 52 minutes.

Dellien served well at the beginning of the second set and stayed in touch with a mighty rival. Nadal held at love in game five with a smash winner and created three break chances in the next one. Hugo sprayed a backhand error, losing serve at love and falling 4-2 behind.

The Bolivian passed the Spaniard at the net in the next game, pulling the break back and returning to the positive side.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2021© Alex Caparros / Stringer - Getty Images Sport

Rafa broke again in game eight after Hugo's loose backhand, opening a 5-3 advantage and holding at love a few minutes later with a service winner for a massive two sets to love advantage after an hour and 28 minutes.

Dellien saved five break points in the first game of the second set before Nadal seized the sixth after the rival's loose backhand. Rafa held after deuce in game two and secured another break in the next one after Hugo's backhand error, opening a 3-0 lead and moving closer to the finish line.

Nadal clinched the fourth game with an ace and made another push on the return in the next one. The Spaniard landed a volley winner in the fifth game for 5-0, forcing the Bolivian to serve to stay in the match. Rafa painted a forehand down the line winner in the sixth game, delivering a bagel and sailing into the next round.

Dellien failed to join Nadal in the main draw in Barcelona this week, falling in the second qualifying round.

Rafael Nadal Hugo Dellien