Rafael Nadal’s comeback at Barcelona Open ended by Alex de Minaur


Rafael Nadal’s injury comeback was ended by Alex de Minaur as the 12-time champion waved goodbye to the Barcelona Open for possibly the final time.

Nadal, 37, returned to court on Tuesday after a three-month absence, making light work of 21-year-old Italian Flavio Cobolli in a straight-set win.

A day later, Nadal lost 7-5 6-1 to world number 11 De Minaur in round two.

Nadal, a 22-time major winner, has indicated he plans to retire in 2024 if he is unable to compete regularly.

The former world number one, now ranked 644th, has only played five matches since January 2023 because of hip and abdominal injuries.

Nadal is hoping to be fit enough to make a return to the French Open, where he won a record 14 men’s singles titles, next month.

Facing a player of De Minaur’s pedigree was always likely to be a considerable step up, and a truer test of his level than his comeback outing against 62nd-ranked Cobolli.

The 25-year-old Australian tried to test Nadal’s movement by using drop shots early in the match, an effective tactic which helped him move 2-0 in front and tee up another break point for 3-0.

But Nadal survived to hold and improved his level, producing a number of explosive cross-court backhand winners as he fought back to lead 4-3.

Another backhand winner, this time down the line, even drew a clap of the strings from De Minaur and teed up another break point for Nadal.

Taking the chance would have left Nadal serving for the set, but De Minaur recovered and won 19 of the next 24 points to win an opener lasting more than an hour.

After so long out, and with playing on consecutive days, Nadal’s endurance was always going to be tested, particularly against an opponent known for his athleticism.

De Minaur played smartly in a one-sided second set and broke Nadal’s serve three times, silencing the Barcelona crowd in the process, to secure an impressive victory.

Nadal left the court bearing his name – for what could be the final time – to a standing ovation and rapturous send-off.

Meanwhile, British men’s number two Jack Draper reached his 10th ATP Tour quarter-finals at the BMW Open in Munich.

Draper, 22, fought back after a rain delay to earn a 4-6 6-1 6-1 win over German world number 179 Rudolf Molleker at the clay-court event.

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