The Citizen (KZN)

Rafa: A joy to return in Barcelona


Barcelona – Rafael Nadal said it will be “a joy” to return to action for the first time since January when he takes part in the Barcelona Open next week, where he is a 12-time champion.

The 22-time Grand Slam winner has played just once, in an exhibition match, since he felt a hip injury flare-up during a quarterfin­al defeat by Jordan Thompson in Brisbane ahead of the Australian Open.

“I’m happy to be here, of course, Barcelona is a place that has brought me a great deal of joy, and where I have spent periods of my life,” said Nadal at Saturday’s draw ceremony.

Nadal will play 63rd-ranked Flavio Cobolli of Italy in his opening match.

Nadal, who turns 38 in June, will be looking for a problem-free return hunting for a record-extending 15th French Open title.

The former world No 1 has seen his ranking slip to 646 after missing the 2023 season following the Australian Open.

“Over the last two years I’ve had very few days on tour, so spending days here, seeing people, practicing with players is a joy,” added Nadal.

“I’m keen to carry on. The tournament has some incredible players.”

The 2022 and 2023 Barcelona champion Carlos Alcaraz announced yesterday that he will not begin his clay-court campaign as scheduled in Bareclona after missing the Monte Carlo Masters due to a right arm injury.

World No 3 Alcaraz was the top seed and would have had a bye in the first round.

Nadal has never played Cobolli, 16 years his junior. If he gets past him, he will face the tougher task of 11th-ranked Australian Alex de Minaur in the second round.

There was the prospect of a tantalisin­g semifinal meeting with Alcaraz on the centre court which now bears Nadal’s name.

Nadal has been training with sixth-ranked Andrey Rublev of Russia. –

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