Rafael Nadal learns his first opponent of the season

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Rafael Nadal learns his first opponent of the season

The 20-time Major champion Rafael Nadal will kick off the new season at the ATP Cup against Alex de Minaur on February 2! The Spaniard is currently in Adelaide, preparing for the year's start and waiting for the exhibition match with Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem before the Melbourne trip.

For the second straight year, Nadal will lead Spain at the ATP Cup, facing Alex de Minaur and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the group stage and hoping to lead his country into the semis. Rafa played seven tournaments in 2020 following the coronavirus pandemic, skipping the US Open and lifting the 20th Major crown in Paris to join Roger Federer at the top of the GOAT race.

On the other hand, de Minaur advanced to his first Major quarter-final in New York in September and played for the trophy in Antwerp, losing to Ugo Humbert in straight sets. Working hard during the off-season, Alex started 2021 with his fourth ATP crown in Antalya, gathering a boost and hoping for a strong run in front of Melbourne's home fans.

In their previous encounter at the last year's ATP Cup, Nadal had to dig deep to prevail against the youngster, beating him 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 to propel Spain into the final. Carried by momentum after that epic win over Great Britain, de Minaur threw everything he had at Nadal and stayed on the level terms with him for some 100 minutes before Rafa took charge to bring the victory home.

Both players served above 70%, and it was Nadal who delivered more efficient numbers behind the first serve. Alex had the advantage on the second, scoring two breaks from three chances and giving serve away four times, thrice in the decider.

Rafael Nadal will open the season at the ATP Cup against Alex de Minaur.

Rafa made a shaky start and sprayed a forehand error in the first game to suffer a break at 15. The crowd favorite held after deuce to cement the lead and open a 2-0 advantage.

Nadal got his name on the scoreboard with a forehand winner in game three and held at love at 1-3 to remain within one break deficit. From 30-0 down, de Minaur won four straight points in the eighth game and closed it with a forehand down the line winner, earning a set point on the return at 5-3.

Nadal saved it to extend the set before Alex landed a forehand winner for a hold at love and 6-4. Having to raise his level against an inspired rival, Rafa dropped only six points behind the initial shot in set number two and kept the pressure on the other side.

De Minaur followed that pace until game 12 when Nadal finally grabbed his first break of the match, taking the set and stealing momentum ahead of the decider. Riding on that wave, the more experienced player grabbed 14 of the deciding set's opening 15 points and seized three straight return games to break Alex's resistance.