You would never have guessed that he has been sidelined for 44 days. Rafael Nadal returned to competition on Wednesday at the Mutua Madrid Open and delighted the fans in the Manolo Santana Stadium with his win over Miomir Kecmanovic. The player with the most titles at the Masters 1000 in the Spanish capital (2005, 2010, 2013-14 & 2017) dispatched the Serb in straight sets (6-1, 7-6) after one hour and 55 minutes.
A rib fracture he picked up at Indian Wells meant that the final he played there against Taylor Fritz was his last match before coming back in Madrid, a later start than normal to his European clay swing. Any doubts generated by his time out quickly dissipated as the Mallorcan was largely untroubled on his way to the last sixteen at the twentieth anniversary of the #MMOPEN.
It was a dream start for Nadal, who converted two break points in the fourth and six games. The third seed cruised through a first set that was his after 36 minutes with a blend of solid tennis from the baseline and aggressiveness, with seven winners.
Rain forced a roof closure in the Manolo Santana Stadium when Kecmanovic had notched up the first game of the second set on his own serve. The half-hour break allowed the Belgrade native to settle before finding a way back into the match and asking some questions of the 21-time Grand Slam winner.
The young 22-year-old player managed two break backs in the sixth and twelfth games to force a second-set tiebreak which Nadal claimed when he put his foot down and served his third ace of the match (7-4) to pick up his first win at the fourth Masters 1000 on the calendar.
Nadal will be bidding for a place in the #MMOPEN quarters on Thursday against David Goffin. The Belgian David Goffin, a qualifier, beat Dutch player Botic van de Zandschulp (6-4, 6-2). The world No. 4 has reached the antepenultimate round on thirteen of his fifteen appearances in Madrid.
— #MMOPEN (@MutuaMadridOpen) May 4, 2022
Homage for Manolo Santana
After the victory, the Manolo Santana Stadium hosted a tribute in which the founding father of the Mutua Madrid Open was officially honoured with the Gold Medal of the City of Madrid after his passing on 11 December last year. Nadal shared some memories and compassion for the Spanish tennis legend.
“It’s really a very special year having had Manolo Santana to look up to all my life. It’s sad that we’re experiencing the tournament without him and we should remember the moments that made us happiest”, the Manacor-born player said emotionally.
Nadal acknowledged that his form has been affected by the recovery from his rib fracture. “I’m very excited to be here, but my form is only just there. The first set was very positive. All the time on court helps me regain movement and fitness. The injury came at a difficult time and I’m doing my preparations here”, explained.
The winner of 36 Masters 1000 titles was delighted with the support he received from the fans against Kecmanovic. “Winning is always very important and it gives you confidence. But playing at home is unique because the support in Madrid is unconditional and you have no idea what it means to me to play here”, ended.