Nadal happy to overcome fear after surgery in comeback match

Nadal marked his singles comeback after hip surgery with a 7-5 6-1 victory over former world number three Dominic Thiem

By Reuters

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Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Austria's Dominic Thiem during their match at the Brisbane International on Tuesday. — AFP
Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Austria's Dominic Thiem during their match at the Brisbane International on Tuesday. — AFP

Published: Tue 2 Jan 2024, 7:47 PM

Rafael Nadal was elated to return to professional tennis on Tuesday after nearly a year on the sidelines but the Spaniard said recovering his confidence and natural movements on the court would take time.

Nadal marked his singles comeback after hip surgery with a 7-5 6-1 victory over Austrian former world number three Dominic Thiem in the Brisbane International first round, with the 22-times major winner showing he was far from done with the sport.

The 37-year-old's last match was at the Australian Open in January 2023 and he sat out the rest of the season after undergoing hip surgery a few months later.

"For me the main thing is stay healthy. I really think that I didn't forget how to play tennis. The only thing that's going to be difficult to make it in a professional match and in a very high level of tennis," Nadal told reporters.

"You need to recover the confidence and the movements, that takes time ... After the surgery, you feel scared sometimes to do a kind of movement and you need to recover the speed and reading the ball and (doing) things in an automatic way.

"You need hours on court, hours in a practice session, but at the same time hours in professional matches. I (didn't) know what could happen today. It's a day to be happy ... I am excited to have the chance to play another time."

Thiem, 30, has also been on the comeback trail after missing several months in 2021 and 2022 due to a wrist injury.

The former US Open champion is now ranked 98th in the world but Nadal said he could easily climb the rankings judging by the way he played.

"I think the last year has been a positive year for him because after a tough time, he was able to come back to the Top 100, something that is not easy," Nadal said.

"I think he starts the year again with the ambition to make a positive year and to finish the year with a much higher ranking. That, I think, is something that should happen if he is healthy.

"If he is able to win matches and to recover the confidence in himself, I don't see him being in a ranking close to 100. I see him in a much higher ranking, honestly."

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