Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022

Rafael Nadal: I am no longer a favourite to win a tournament

Rafael Nadal has won his first match on clay since the 2022 Roland Garros final, with the Spaniard admitting that he is being ‘realistic’ about his ambitions at the Barcelona Open this week.

Nadal beat world No.62 Flavio Cobolli, 6-2 6-3, in his first match since the Brisbane International back in January.

After beating the Italian youngster, Nadal spoke on the court named after himself (Pista Rafa Nadal) about how he was feeling following his victory.

“I have done that [come back from challenges] a lot of times in my career; it’s true that it gets more difficult when you are at an advanced age,” admitted Nadal.

“I am going through tough moments, but at the same time, when I am able to be on the tour for a few days and practice with the guys and then compete a little bit, means a lot to me. It’s still enjoyable enough for me to keep doing it.”

Nadal has only played four matches since the 2023 Australian Open due to a psoas and abdomen injury, and despite feeling pleased with his win in Barcelona the former No.1 revealed that he does not want to get ahead of himself.

“The most important thing is to have played, the rest is secondary,” said the 37-year-old in his press conference. “Until the week is over we won’t know anything, for me it is important that nothing happens. Although it is difficult, perhaps it is not the week to do everything that my heart tells me. We are going to do things as best we can, with a lot of logic.”

He continued, “That today’s game went like this is positive, it allows me to play again tomorrow. I don’t know how my body will respond to the demands, but I am realistic with what I have experienced in the last year-and-a-half. We’ll see how far I go, but I’ll try not to cross lines that aren’t dangerous.

“From how I am now to how I was a week ago there is an important change. I see myself as competitive, I see myself as capable of enjoying playing, all of this was quite far away a week ago. That’s sport, things change very quickly.”

Nadal is a record 12-time champion in Barcelona, having beaten Stefanos Tsitsipas in two of those finals.

Tsitsipas is returning to the tournament this year coming off the back of winning the Monte Carlo Masters, and revealed last week that he wouldn’t be surprised if Nadal reached a 13th final in Barcelona.

However, Nadal has shut down this suggestion from the Greek, “It’s stupid, let’s face it, he knows that’s not the case. I suppose there is a lot of respect for what I have been in this tournament, but everyone knows that I am no longer a favorite to aspire to win a tournament.

“There is simply a story behind it that weighs heavily on rivals. To this day I am not the favorite, maybe in today’s game yes, it is possible, I swear I have no idea if I was or not. I didn’t care either. I know that tomorrow [against Alex de Minaur] I am not a favorite, but it doesn’t matter either.”

Nadal will have a step up in level in his second round match in Barcelona, with the 22-time major winner taking on fourth seed Alex de Minaur this afternoon.

Inside the baseline…

Rafael Nadal being back is always going to be a good thing, and it was a very impressive performance considering everything that he has been through in recent times. With Nadal being ranked outside the top 600, his draws are more difficult than ever and to have to play the in-form Alex de Minaur in the second round is going to be a big test. It will be interesting to see how Nadal recovers after his first ATP match since January.

READ MORE: Stefanos Tsitsipas admits he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if Rafael Nadal reached Barcelona Open final

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Matthew Johns, Tennishead Writer, is a professional tennis journalist with a specialist degree in Sports Journalism. He's a keen tennis player having represented his local club and University plus he's also a qualified tennis coach. Matthew has a deep knowledge of tennis especially the ATP Tour and thrives on breaking big tennis news stories for Tennishead.