Rafael Nadal's Return: Defying Logic and Defeating Setbacks

Rafael Nadal is off to a winning start in Barcelona

by Jovica Ilic
Rafael Nadal's Return: Defying Logic and Defeating Setbacks
© Stream screenshot

Rafael Nadal is back in action at his beloved Barcelona Open, competing for the first time since the opening week of the season. A 12-time Barcelona Open winner faced the young Italian Flavio Cobolli in the first round and scored a rock-solid 6-2, 6-3 triumph in an hour and 25 minutes, celebrating his third win of the season.

After the match, Rafa explained all the difficulties after competing at one of his favorite events following all the setbacks. The veteran admitted it was not easy to deal with the conditions on the court, although he did a nice job and delivered a notable triumph.

Nadal did not have to make an extra physical effort, which is essential for him a couple of weeks ahead of his beloved Roland Garros.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© Stream screenshot

Rafa will face Alex de Minaur in the second round, hoping for more good runs this week.

Nadal had the upper hand over Cobolli, controlling the scoreboard and notching his 67th Barcelona Open win. Barcelona is only the fourth tournament for Rafa since the beginning of 2023. After dealing with a hip injury that almost ended his career, the Spaniard has had to deal with an abdominal muscle issue since February, not serving at full throttle and preserving his body.

Flavio could not challenge Rafa, spraying too many errors and ending his campaign on the first obstacle. The home favorite performed well behind the first serve and defended the second nicely, facing only two break points in the second set and losing serve once.

Cobolli needed more to stay competitive, losing ground behind the second serve and getting broken four times from ten chances offered to the legend. It was Nadal's first match on clay since June 2022, and he made a reliable start, serving well in the opener and stealing the rival's serve two times.

The young gun did not know how to handle the veteran's topspins, standing inferior in the exchanges and failing to impose his strokes. Despite not pushing behind the initial shot, Rafa lost only five points in his games in the opening set, keeping the pressure on the other side and earning eight opportunities.

The Spaniard brought the opening game of the encounter home from 0-30, holding after the Italian's backhand error. Flavio served well in the second game and clinched it with a forehand winner for 1-1. Nadal produced another comfortable hold in the third game and found the range on the return in the next one.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© Stream screenshot

Rafael Nadal made a successful return in Barcelona.

The young gun sprayed a backhand error and faced two break points. He saved them with fine hitting and wasted a break point before offering Rafa the third break point.

The veteran seized it and moved 3-1 in front, gathering a boost and holding in the next one with an unreturned serve to cement the lead in under 25 minutes. Cobolli again struggled behind the initial shot in the sixth game, offering Nadal four break points.

Flavio landed three service winners and forced Rafa's mistake, getting out of jail and holding with another unreturned serve to remain within one break deficit. The veteran forgot about those chances and produced a hold at love in game seven thanks to a reliable serve, moving 5-2 in front and forcing his rival to serve to stay in the set.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© Stream screenshot

Nadal prolonged the game with a backhand crosscourt winner and created a set point after Cobolli's forehand mistake. Flavio netted another forehand, losing the opener 6-2 and propelling the home star closer to the finish line.

The Italian controlled the rally at 30-30 in the first game of the second set, drawing the Spaniard's mistake and creating his first break point. Rafa erased it with a crafty drop shot winner and brought the game home after Flavio's wayward forehand.

Cobolli sprayed a backhand error in the second game and faced two break points. The young gun placed another forehand beyond the baseline, losing serve and pushing the veteran a set and a break in front. Nadal faced issues behind the initial shot for the second straight time in the third game, offering his rival break points after a double fault.

A 12-time champion placed a backhand wide, losing serve for the only time and bringing the young gun back to the positive side. Flavio could not gain a boost from that, hitting a double fault in the fourth game and losing serve for the third straight time, falling 3-1 behind.

Rafa confirmed the break with an unreturned serve in the fifth game, securing ten of the opening 13 games and sailing toward the top. Cobolli reduced the deficit with a reliable hold in game six, closing it with a service winner and remaining within one break deficit.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© Stream screenshot

Nadal opened the seventh game with a double fault before taking four straight points, holding after Cobolli's forehand mistake and moving 5-2 up. Flavio painted a forehand winner in the eighth game, holding at love and prolonging the battle.

Nadal served for his third win of the season at 5-3 and created three match points with a mighty forehand that drew Cobolli's mistake. The veteran converted the second after the young gun's backhand error, scoring his first win on clay after almost two years.

"It's super demanding to manage everything after all these setbacks and do logical things when you are back competing. Playing in special events, like Barcelona, makes it even more challenging for me. It was not easy to manage the conditions today, but I controlled the encounter and won without making an extra physical effort. Let's see if I can keep it this way," Rafael Nadal said.

Rafael Nadal