Rafael Nadal is indeed back. Absent from the tennis courts since his defeat on January 18, 2023, in the second round of the Australian Open against the American Mackenzie McDonald, the former world number 1 achieved his comeback by winning easily (7 -5, 6-1), Tuesday, against the Austrian Dominic Thiem in the first round of the tournament in Brisbane (Australia).

“Today was an important day for me, with quite a few emotions. We had to fight to have the pleasure of coming back to play here, he explained at the end of the match at the microphone of the tournament organization. Having all these people around me was invaluable and extremely important support. I was a little nervous before the match, but I’m happy today. »

Having undergone two hip operations in 2023, it took three hundred and fifty days for the Spaniard to be operational again. Some doubted his ability to perform in his first match, but the 37-year-old champion quickly responded. His forehand lassos, his “Vamos” after a powerful passing, his tics when serving or returning, this intensity specific to his game… all these little details which make him a unique player have not disappeared.

From the first point of the match, the Bull of Manacor set the tone with a winning forehand topspin, his signature. Quick in his movements forward and as powerful as ever in his strikes, the Spaniard has lost none of his splendor, like this mid-volley passing at 3-2 in the first set. Never worried about his service game (89% of points won on his first ball), Carlos Moya’s protégé won the first set 7-5.

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games in sight

And the Spaniard did not give his Austrian rival time to breathe. Taking advantage of the errors made by Dominic Thiem, Rafael Nadal immediately broke his opponent at the start of the second set. Consistent on the return and enterprising in his game, the Majorcan left no chance to easily win the second set, 6-1. For 1 hour 28 minutes, the winner of fourteen editions of the French Open showed no sign of suffering. He will face the Russian Aslan Karatsev (35th in the world) or the Australian Jason Kubler (102nd in the world) in the second round.

In a twist of fate, it was the winner of the 2020 US Open and double finalist at Roland-Garros in 2018 and 2019, Dominic Thiem, who faced the Spaniard. Because he too is a ghost. After a wrist injury and a return to competition in March 2022, the 30-year-old Austrian, now 98th in the world, is struggling to find his best tennis, which had brought him to third place in the world. Proof of the complexity of returning to the highest level after a long period of convalescence.

If “Rafa” has not officially announced his future, several signs suggest that this season could be his last. Having fallen to 668th place in the world, the player undoubtedly has the ambition of winning an Olympic gold medal at the Paris Games. The competition will take place on Parisian clay, his favorite surface.