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Back in business: Nadal triumphs over Thiem in Brisbane return

2 January 2024, by Vivienne Christie

In the hundreds of first-round matches that Rafael Nadal has contested, there had arguably never been one so keenly anticipated as his opening round at Brisbane International 2024.

Nadal, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, is returning from a serious hip injury that resulted in an 11-month absence – the longest break in the 37-year-old’s prolific career.

Adding to the suspense of Nadal’s first match in Brisbane, he’d drawn a fellow Grand Slam champion – and similarly challenged superstar – in the first match of his comeback.

Dominic Thiem is a multiple major finalist, lifting the silverware at US Open 2020. A serious wrist injury, suffered in the 2021 season, has since seriously derailed his career.

It created a rare set of circumstances, with Nadal and Thiem meeting in the first round for the first time in the 16 matches they’ve played.

And if the form wasn’t quite as sparkling as in their previous encounters – two of them in Roland Garros finals – the same competitive intensity remained.

After an hour and 27 minutes of entertaining tennis, Nadal emerged with a heart-warming victory.

“Today is honestly an emotional and important day for me after probably one of the toughest years of my tennis career without a doubt,” he smiled after progressing 7-5 6-1 against Thiem.

“I had the chance to come back after a year and play in front of an amazing crowd and to play at, I think, a very positive level on the first day is probably something that would make us feel proud – (for) myself, (for) all the team, family that have been there every single day during the last year.”

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That Thiem initially made Nadal work hard for his victory provided pleasing reassurance in Nadal’s return to the tour.

With glimpses of both stars’ trademark shotmaking, neither man faced a break point until late in the first set.

As he gradually found his rhythm, Nadal eventually capitalised, gaining the crucial break in the 11th game and consolidating to take the 56-minute opening set.

Returned to a familiar front-running position, the Spaniard seized all momentum. In building a 3-0 lead in the second set, he also seized five games in a row.

Thiem, who’d come through qualifying, never seriously challenged again as Nadal seized victory with a 15th winner on his first match point.

“I think the first set had been very equal. Both of us serving well and winning more or less our serves, very comfortably,” said Nadal, noting the turning point of the service break late in the first set.

“So that makes a difference and honestly, I know Dominic has been going through some hard times with injuries too, so I’m happy to see him on court and I wish him all the very best for the season.”

For Nadal, a Brisbane campaign continues with some doubts eliminated – and with enormous gratitude to simply be back on the court.

“I missed being healthy. I missed feeling myself (be) competitive and play in front of full crowds like this,” he added.

“All my career here in Australia have been amazing supporters for me, so I can’t thank everyone enough.”

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