Rafael Nadal returned to the court for a singles match after a long hiatus of 349 days and he played like he had never left. 2023 was one of the toughest years in Nadal’s glorious career as he had to undergo knife for his hip injury.
The comeback was difficult but Nadal did what he always does best – be patient, grind it out, and give your best. The veteran Spaniard bested Dominic Thiem in straight sets by 7-5, 6-1 in Brisbane to mark a successful return to the tour.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion had to battle hard in the first set but he once again impressed with his game as he has done all over these years.
“Today is honestly an emotional and important day for me after probably one of the toughest years of my tennis career, without a doubt,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “I had the chance to come back after a year and play in front of an amazing crowd and play, I think, at a very positive level.
“On the first day, it is something that makes us feel proud. Myself, all the team and family that have been there every single day during the past year.”
Nadal was able to earn a break point in the 12th game of the opening set and he was also able to convert it to go one set up against the Austrian.
“The first set was equal, with both of us serving well and more or less winning on serve,” said Nadal. “I was able to have that break at 6-5, so that makes the difference. Honestly, I know Dominic has gone through some hard times with injuries too, so I’m happy to see him on court and I wish him the very best for the season.”
This was Nadal’s 1069th tour-level victory, and he leapfrogged former World No. 1 Ivan Lendl on the all-time leaderboard. Nadal gave his gratitude to all the fans, his team as well as the family for their unwavering support.
“The support is super important, especially in the low moments,” said Nadal, when asked about those in his player’s box. “I had the chance to receive thousands of messages during this year and having great people next to me every single day makes the difference, without a doubt. I missed being healthy, I missed feeling competitive and playing in front of full crowds like this.”
Nadal will either face Jason Kubler or Aslan Karatsev in the second round of Brisbane International 2024 on Thursday.