Nadal's progress encouraging in Alcaraz friendly but Rafa remains on the edge | Tennis News - Hindustan Times
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Rafael Nadal's progress encouraging in Alcaraz friendly but French Open has him on the edge

Mar 04, 2024 12:56 PM IST

Rafael Nadal looked good against Carlos Alcaraz but the next few days are crucial for him.

Rafael Nadal looked good in his match against fellow Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. It was an exhibition match alright, but when two big names from the tennis world compete, it's an exhibition match only on paper. Both players may not have used their mental faculties as much as they normally would in a competitive match, but as far as the physicality aspect is concerned, there is no relaxation, rest assured.

Rafael Nadal ticked most boxes during the Netflix Slam exhibition game against Carlos Alcaraz. (Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal ticked most boxes during the Netflix Slam exhibition game against Carlos Alcaraz. (Getty Images)

From that point of view, Nadal would have been extremely happy with his Netflix Slam outing in Las Vegas on Sunday. He lost 3-6, 6-4 (14-12). The scoreline suggests it was not a one-sided match. 20-year-old Alcaraz is one of the top players in the world.

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Last year he beat Novak Djokovic in the Wimbledon final against all odds. Along with Jannik Sinner, he is the player to watch out for in the coming years. So coming up with that kind of performance against a player of that calibre bodes well for Nadal and his fans. It doesn’t really matter if it’s an exhibition match.

Also Read: Nadal relieved he 'won't face Alcaraz many times' after epic Las Vegas face-off in Netflix Slam

Nadal returned to competitive tennis at the Brisbane International in early January after almost a gap of one year necessitated by a hip injury. He had last played in the 2023 Australian Open. In Brisbane, on his return, he won his first match against Jason Kubler in straight sets before losing to Jordan Thompson in a three-setter. In what was nothing short of a shocker, he then opted out of the Australian Open starting a few days later, citing a hip injury he had picked up in his defeat but thankfully not in the same area as before.

What's next for Nadal

Nadal’s strategy is quite clear now. He is targeting showing up at the French Open in May with all bases covered. Not just to participate, but to win. Which makes a lot of sense. He has won a record 14 French Open trophies. Last year, for the first time in almost two decades, he couldn't participate in the tournament. Roland Garros is one event where he backs himself – others do too - to go all the way and win. So from here till the French Open, he is expected to take it easy and avoid too many high-intensity encounters.

Also Read: Nadal rolls back years with vintage no-look overhead shot to stun Alcaraz in Netflix Slam match

The 37-year-old has already said 2024 could be his last year in competitive tennis. He had said it when he was really struggling with his injuries. Later, when things got a bit better for him, he said he could go on playing beyond 2024 provided he could stay fit. It’s not so much his defeats that should bother him going forward. The important thing is not to pick up another career-threatening injury because he may not be motivated to go through all the pain again that the recovery process entails.

“I need to spend more time on the tour, at least to practice with the professional players even if not playing many official matches. That’s the important thing right now, is to be in rhythm again.

"…It’s my body [the area of concern] more than anything else because my mind is healthy. I have a passion for what I am doing,” Nadal had said ahead of the exhibition.

This week’s Indian Wells is a key tournament for Nadal that will truly show how far he has come in his recovery journey. If he can play a few matches without flaring up his new and old injuries, it will be great news for all stakeholders in tennis. Plus, his rivalry with Novak Djokovic will come back to life. The Serb has dominated the sport in the last few years, particularly after the retirement of Roger Federer and Nadal’s injuries. Phew, so many of them! So a fit-again Nadal is a must for tennis for now. Fans all over the world must be keeping their fingers crossed, dearly hoping Nadal can leave his injury concerns completely behind and return to where he belongs.

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