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Rafa Nadal back to practice at his tennis academy, eyes Madrid or Rome return before Roland Garros

Rafael Nadal returned to practice today. EPA-EFE/JAMES ROSS AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

By Ricky DimonRafael Nadal returned to practice at his academy in Mallorca on Monday. It is the first time Nadal has been on a tennis court since he suffered a stress fracture in his rib during the BNP Paribas Open–where he finished runner-up to Taylor Fritz.

“Today after 4 weeks without stepping on a tennis court, first light training,” Nadal wrote (translated from Spanish) on social media. “What an illusion to step on clay again!”

Following his injury-plagued loss to Fritz in Indian Wells, the 35-year-old was diagnosed with the stress fracture and expected to miss 4-6 weeks. Thus it was no surprise that he was forced to withdraw from last week’s Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 and this week’s ATP 500 in Barcelona. Nadal is an 11-time champion in Monte-Carlo and a 12-time winner of the Barcelona tournament.

“I am devastated and sad because after such a good start to the season I have had,” the world No. 4 said following the diagnosis. “Now is a very important time of the year for me and I had a very good feeling (on the court) and good results. Well, I have always had that spirit of fighting and overcoming and what I will do is be patient and work hard after my recovery.”

Now the work is beginning, and Nadal hopes to be ready for Masters 1000 events in Madrid and Rome. Madrid begins on May 1; Rome is one week later. There is a week of 250s following Rome and then the French Open gets underway on May 22.

Nadal is 20-1 in 2022 with three titles–a 250 in Melbourne, the Australian Open, and a 500 in Acapulco. He is now the solo leader in men’s singles Grand Slam titles for the first time in his career at 21 and can extend his advantage to two over both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic if the Spaniard triumphs at Roland Garros for the 14th time.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.