Rafael Nadal’s return to competitive tennis play continues…
When the 37-year-old Spanish tennis star faced three break points while serving for a commanding first set on Thursday, a voice in the crowd at the Brisbane International yelled out to Jason Kubler: “You’ve got him worried now!”
It was a fleeting concern for the 22-time Grand Slam winner in his second match back from a yearlong injury layoff.
Nadal won the next five points to seal the set, broke at love to open the second set and consolidated by holding his own serve easily to put him on course for a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Kubler and a spot in the quarterfinals.
“Every day is an adventure,” Nadal said. “I take every day like an opportunity, and tomorrow is another one.”
Nadal is playing on a wild card after his ranking slipped into the 600s as he recovered from hip surgery, and he is desperate for match time ahead of the Australian Open this month.
Regaining the mental and muscle memory of navigating difficult game scenarios is on his must-do list this week.
“It’s important to survive these kind of moments because you practice the adversity,” Nadal said. “Something I need to practice again because [it’s] been a while, a long time, without being in that position.”
Nadal’s first competitive match since January last year was a win Tuesday against 2020 US Open champion and former No. 3-ranked Dominic Thiem. He was more convincing against Kubler, a hometown favorite who is ranked 63rd after a career interrupted by multiple operations on his knees.
“It means a lot to me,” Nadal said, “and two victories after a long time being outside of the professional tour is something that, yeah, makes me feel good and happy.”
Nadal had 20 winners, including some ripping forehands, and eight unforced errors. As well as his powerful groundstrokes and dominant serve, he hit volleys, half-volleys and overheads. He scrambled to chase drop shots and covered the baseline without any visible signs of the injury.
He lost only one point in his first three service games — a double-fault on the second point of the match. But he was also able to dig himself out of a hole when he needed it at 5-1.
The only blip for Nadal was a warning for a time violation for taking too long in a locker-room break between sets. He shrugged it off, saying it was so humid he needed to change his clothing and he thought he was on time. He promised he would work on changing faster.
Nadal said the hip was “not bothering me at all,” and he is not having any issues with his long-term foot problem.
He will play another Australian, Jordan Thompson, in the quarterfinals Friday. Thompson got a walkover when fourth-seeded Ugo Humbert withdrew from their second-round match because of illness.