Sports, Tennis

Rafael Nadal makes long-waited comeback

By Reuters
Published : 31 Dec 2023 09:33 PM | Updated : 31 Dec 2023 09:36 PM

Rafael Nadal returned to action for the first time since January at the Brisbane International on Sunday, losing his doubles match but overall showing no obvious after-effects of the hip injury that ruined his year.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion, who is gearing up for the Jan. 14-28 Australian Open, sustained the hip problem in his second round loss at Melbourne Park at the start of 2023 and ended his season early after having surgery in June.

Nadal rekindled his partnership with retired veteran Marc Lopez, with whom he won an Olympic gold medal in 2016, for his comeback but the duo lost 6-4 6-4 to Australians Max Purcell and Jordan Thompson at a packed Pat Rafter Arena.

"It's great to see Rafa back," said Thompson. "I've been on the receiving end a couple of times in singles, so it's nice to get him back on a doubles court."

The 37-year-old Nadal was warmly welcomed by fans who held up Spanish flags and supportive messages while the loudest cheers were reserved for his trademark whipped shots and a powerful crosscourt backhand winner in the opening set.

Nadal is likely to get a similar reception in his singles opener on Tuesday against qualifier Dominic Thiem, whom he beat in the 2018 and 2019 French Open finals and holds a 9-6 win-loss record against.

Former women's world number one Naomi Osaka will also make her comeback following maternity break when she meets Tamara Korpatsch on Monday.

The 26-year-old from Japan last competed on the tour in September 2022 and welcomed her first child, daughter Shai, in July.

Former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens got her campaign off to a good start as she beat Katerina Siniakova 7-5 6-3 while Camila Giorgi survived a scare to get past Peyton Stearns 5-7 6-2 6-3.

Russian 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva also reached the second round with a 6-2 6-3 win over Diana Shnaider.