Watch: Rafael Nadal trains at Caja Magica

Rafael Nadal will compete in Madrid for the first time since 2022

by Jovica Ilic
Watch: Rafael Nadal trains at Caja Magica
© David Ramos / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Four-time Caja Magica champion Rafael Nadal is training at his home Masters 1000 event in Madrid! Rafa returned to action in Barcelona this week, defeating Flavio Cobolli in his first match after 100 days before falling to Alex de Minaur in straight sets.

Nadal felt good physically, although he did not have high expectations, gathering time on the court and taking care of his body ahead of Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Rafa will most likely enter his 129th Masters 1000 event in Madrid, playing in front of the home crowd for the first time since 2022.

The veteran has not played at a Masters 1000 level since the 2022 Paris Masters, missing almost an entire 2023 season due to a severe hip injury and doing his best to make a comeback and end his incredible career on his terms.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© David Ramos / Staff - Getty Images Sport

Nadal played in Brisbane in the first week of 2024, feeling the pain around his hip again and withdrawing from the Australian Open. A 22-time Major winner felt the pain in his abdominal muscle in February, missing Doha, Indian Wells and Monte Carlo before entering Barcelona.

Rafa played well in the first match on the court, which carries his name. He fought well against de Minaur in the first set before losing ground. He was not ready to battle at a high level for too long, hoping to change that in Madrid.

Rafa is the most decorated player at Caja Magica since 2009, playing in seven finals in the opening nine editions and lifting four trophies, the last in 2017.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© Stream screenshot

Rafael Nadal will compete at the Madrid Masters.

Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic after an epic battle in the 2009 semi-final, prevailing after over four hours before losing the final to Roger Federer.

Rafa served revenge a year later and beat Roger in the title clash before finishing runner-up to Novak in 2011. The Spaniard lifted trophies in front of the home fans in 2013 and 2014 and settled with the runner-up spot in 2015 after losing to Andy Murray.

Nadal fourth and most recent Caja Magica crown came in 2017 over Dominic Thiem, competing in the final of the home Masters 1000 event for the last time. Rafa is not thinking about another deep run at Caja Magica after many setbacks in the previous two years.

He aims to play injury-free and avoid more issues ahead of Roland Garros, his main target and the ultimate dream.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© Stream screenshot

Rafa missed the Madrid Masters a year ago due to a hip injury, and his most recent match came in 2022 against his young compatriot Carlos Alcaraz.

Nadal and Alcaraz met at Caja Magica for the second straight year, and a teenager notched a 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 triumph in two hours and 28 minutes. Thus, Carlos became the youngest player to beat the king of clay on his favorite surface!

Rafa had a 33-1 score against the U21 players on clay before this duel, suffering the second loss and propelling Carlos into the last four. Nadal had skipped a month and a half ahead of Madrid due to a fractured rib. He scored two wins at Caja Magica before losing to his young compatriot, staying without the title in Madrid for five years.

Carlos had the upper hand in sets he won, letting the second set away after a minor injury and bouncing back in the decider. Alcaraz denied six out of nine break points and delivered four breaks from five chances, doing enough to emerge at the top.

A teenager fired 37 winners and 31 unforced errors, dictating the pace and playing more aggressive tennis. Carlos made a reliable start, clinching a break in the first game of the encounter and denying three break points in the next one.

However, he hit a double fault on the fourth, bringing Rafa back to 1-1. Four-time Caja Magica champion wasted two game points in the third game and experienced the second break in a row.

Rafael Nadal, Barcelona 2024© Stream screenshot

Alcaraz confirmed the break with a hold in game four and moved 4-2 in front with another fine service game.

The young gun grabbed his third break in game seven, opening a 5-2 gap and holding at love in game eight with a powerful serve for 6-2 after 47 minutes. Carlos hurt his ankle in the third game of the second set. He had to slow down, suffering breaks in games four and six and trailing 5-1.

Nadal served for the set in game seven and held at love, closing the set in style and gathering a boost. The young made a fresh start in the decider, serving well and creating break chances at 2-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner.

Carlos grabbed the first, moving 3-1 in front and closer to the finish line. Alcaraz served well in games five and seven, forging a 5-2 lead and forcing Nadal to serve to stay in the match. Rafa held in game eight before Carlos created a match point on serve at 5-3 with a drop shot winner.

The young gun blasted a forehand down the line winner on the first, sealing the deal in style and celebrating a notable win.

Rafael Nadal