ATP

Rafael Nadal eases past Flavio Cobolli on return to action in Barcelona

By Sports Desk April 16, 2024

Rafael Nadal made a triumphant return to the match court with victory over Flavio Cobolli in the first round of the Barcelona Open.

The 37-year-old was playing just his second tournament in 15 months after suffering another injury problem in his hip muscle at his comeback event in Brisbane in January.

Nadal only committed to playing at the tournament he has won 12 times on Monday but there was not much rust on display as he eased to a 6-2 6-3 victory over 21-year-old Italian Cobolli in his first match on clay since he won his 14th French Open title in 2022.

Nadal received a hero’s welcome as he strode out onto the court that bears his name and, although there were a few loose forehands in the early stages, the former world number one was too solid for Cobolli.

Cobolli understandably looked nervous and contributed to the scoreline with far too many errors, but a big factor in that was the pressure being exerted from the other end of the court.

A blip came when Nadal, who is set to retire at some point this season, played a poor game to drop serve for the first time in the third game of the second set but he had already broken Cobolli and quickly restored his advantage.

There were some vintage forehands from Nadal in the final stages and he clinched victory when Cobolli netted a final backhand, thrusting his fist into the air.

The home favourite faces a real test next, though, when he takes on in-form fourth seed Alex De Minaur.

Meanwhile, second seed Andrey Rublev destroyed his racket at the end of a 6-4 7-6 (6) defeat by Brandon Nakashima that continued his poor run of form.

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