Nadal wins on long-awaited return from injury

5 months ago 532
Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Dominic Thiem at the Brisbane InternationalRafael Nadal's previous singles match was a second-round loss at the Australian Open on 18 January 2023

Rafael Nadal impressed on his long-awaited return after almost a year out with injury as he beat Dominic Thiem at the Brisbane International.

Nadal, contesting his first singles match in 349 days, won 7-5 6-1.

Spain's 22-time Grand Slam champion has indicated this season will likely be the last of his illustrious career.

"Today is honestly an emotional and important day for me after probably one of the toughest years of my tennis career," 37-year-old Nadal said.

"I had the chance to come back after a year and play in front of an amazing crowd and play at a very positive level on the first day, [It] is something that makes us feel proud - my team and family who have been there every day in the last year."

Wildcard Nadal is using the tournament to prepare for the Australian Open.

The first Grand Slam of the year starts on 14 January in Melbourne.

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The last time Nadal was seen in singles action he struggled with injury as he lost to Mackenzie McDonald in the second round of the 2023 Australian Open.

He had an operation on his left hip in June and has has since slipped to 672nd in the world rankings.

Nadal began his comeback by partnering compatriot Marc Lopez in a doubles loss to Australians Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson in Brisbane on Sunday, two days before his first singles test.

At times on Tuesday, it appeared as though Nadal had never been away.

He set the tone by winning 21 of his opening 24 points on serve, displaying skill, poise and athleticism to the delight of the expectant evening crowd.

Thiem, the 2020 US Open champion who has had his own injury problems, had come through his first five service games without any scares. But Nadal, with famed intensity and reassuringly sharp movement, seized his opportunity in the 12th game - taking his fourth break point to wrap up the first set.

He maintained that momentum at the start of the second set, securing love holds either side of breaking the Austrian's serve for a second time as he opened a 3-0 lead.

A fading Thiem managed to end the run of games against him but he was unable to prevent Nadal securing another break for a commanding 5-1 advantage.

When he secured the victory, Nadal raised his arms and thanked the crowd as they celebrated a moment of great significance with him.

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He said in May, after being forced to miss the French Open for the first time in 19 years, that 2024 will "probably" be the final year of his career.

But, following his doubles return in Brisbane, he said his desire to play on remains strong and he did not want to say "100%" that this season would be his last.

Victory over Thiem was Nadal's 1,069th at tour level, a total which moved him past Ivan Lendl to sit fourth on the all-time men's list.

"As you can imagine, today it wasn't a statistic I was aware of," Nadal said.

"I had enough work just to be focused and come back on court and remember how to play in a competitive match.

"There were nerves and doubts before the match. But things went well and I'm excited to be back."

Prior to his injury, Nadal was level with Serbia's Novak Djokovic for the record number of men's major triumphs, but Djokovic went on to win last year's French Open and US Open to move to 24 Grand Slam titles.

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