Rafael Nadal loses to Alex de Minaur in Barcelona tennis comeback

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Rafael Nadal loses to Alex de Minaur in Barcelona tennis comeback

Rafael Nadal lost to Alex de Minaur in the second match of his tennis comeback in Barcelona on Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Australian, ranked No 11 in the world, won 7-5, 6-1, for his first victory over the 22-time Grand Slam champion on the ATP tour.

Nadal, 37, eased to victory against Italian world No 62 Flavio Cobolli on Tuesday in his first clay-court appearance since the 2022 French Open final, but struggled to cope with De Minaur’s consistent intensity in the second round. He was understandably cautious with both his serve and his movement, appearing reluctant to repeatedly fully extend himself, with his mind no doubt on the 2024 French Open just over a month away.

Nadal is considered the greatest clay-court player of all time — with a record 14 French Open titles, as well as 12 in Barcelona — where the centre court on which he lost Wednesday is named after him.



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Despite the ultimately one-sided scoreline, this was by no means a humiliating defeat for Nadal.

A match-up with one of the ATP Tour’s most durable athletes — and form players in 2024 — is a test for anyone on the circuit right now. De Minaur is a phenomenal mover and was always going to be a big ask of where Nadal is at physically, despite the Australian’s patchy record on clay.

De Minaur, nicknamed ‘Demon’, has previous in this area, having beaten Andy Murray in each of their six meetings — all of which have been following Murray’s hip resurfacing operation in 2019.

On Wednesday, Nadal stayed with his opponent, 12 years his junior, during a first set that he only narrowly lost. Even in the more one-sided second set, he was competitive in a number of games which he couldn’t quite close out. Ultimately, De Minaur was not just better than Cobolli, his first-round opponent, but wiser; he used a drop-shot to test Nadal’s movement as early as the first game, and frequently manoeuvred him around the court.

By the end of the second set, when he was two breaks down, Nadal noticeably withdrew into himself. Though this may be an unfamiliar, and sobering sight to his fans, used to a player who plays every match in the moment with no heed for the consequences, it is encouraging. Nadal is playing ‘outside the match’ for the first time in his career, looking forward to his favourite tournament in Paris come May, and he still produced some magical shots that had the crowd rising to their feet. But once he’d lost the first set, Nadal never really looked like making the match competitive.

His focus will hopefully now turn to the Madrid Masters, which he has won five times and begins next week. With two matches under his belt in Barcelona, Nadal should be a step closer to being able to compete at Roland Garros next month. But that will only become clear as he sees how his body reacts to what was his first clay-court event in almost two years.

(Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images)