MADRID (AP) — Back home, Rafael Nadal looks to resume his season where he left off before being sidelined by an injury that halted a great start to his year.
Nadal will seek his fourth title of the season this week at the Madrid Open as he returns to action following a rib stress fracture that kept him out for about a month.
Nadal had won his first 20 matches of the year before getting injured in the semifinals at Indian Wells. He made it to the final but lost to Taylor Fritz for his first defeat. Until then, it had been the third-best start to a season on the ATP Tour since 1990.
Nadal won the Australian Open for a record 21st Grand Slam title and also won in Melbourne and Acapulco. He missed tournaments in Miami, Monte Carlo and Barcelona because of the injury.
The 35-year-old Spaniard will be trying to win the Madrid title for the sixth time, and first since 2017, though he said last week he would have “few chances” of winning after arriving “with minimum preparation.”
Nadal said that he had only been able to even start training, and then for just half an hour a day, two weeks ago. So he is keeping his expectations low as he seeks to recover his form before this month’s French Open, which he has won a record 13 times.
“I’m trying to face these days like a little bit of preseason,” Nadal said Sunday. “I haven’t had the time for the preparation, and that’s the way I have to face it.”
“I know that things had started very good at the beginning of the season,” he said. “For me, every single tournament, as you know, are important, especially in this stage of the season. For me was really hard not to play Monte Carlo, nor Barcelona, and to reach Madrid in very, very tight conditions, but at the same time, I still have three weeks to Paris.”
He will debut against either Miomir Kecmanovic or Alexander Bublik.
Nadal could face a semifinal against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who has been trying to regain his best form after a slow start to the season following his deportation from Australia in January for not being vaccinated against COVID-19.
A three-time winner in Madrid, Djokovic was coming off a runner-up finish in Serbia, where he won three three-set matches before losing the final to Andrey Rublev.
Djokovic, similarly to Nadal, is looking to build momentum for bigger prizes this summer.
“I’m happy that I’m back on track in terms of being able to play in tournaments and, you know, having clarity in terms of schedule, where I need to go, where I can go, where I can peak and where I want to peak,” Djokovic said. “Obviously in clay that’s Roland Garros, and then I can be also in London playing in Wimbledon, which is of course a very important tournament to me. (…) So hopefully I will be able to get the best out of myself, particularly in Grand Slams.”
His first match in Madrid will be against either Gael Monfils or Carlos Gimeno Valero.
Another home-crowd favorite in Madrid will be young sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who made it to No. 9 in the world after titles in Rio de Janeiro, Miami and Barcelona.
The 18-year-old, touted by many as Nadal’s heir, could face his idol in the quarterfinals. He lost to Nadal in the tournament’s second round last year.
Alcaraz will begin his campaign against Nikoloz Basilashvili or Fabio Fognini.
Former world No. 1 Andy Murray, a two-time winner in Madrid, will be back at the clay-court tournament for the first time since 2017. He will face a marquee first-round match against former world No. 3 Dominic Thiem, a two-time finalist in the Spanish capital.
Thiem has been recovering from a wrist injury that sidelined him for eight months.
The 34-year-old Murray had earlier said he would skip the clay season but ended up accepting the wildcard invitation to play in Spain.
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