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Rafa Nadal makes comeback at Madrid Masters tennis • faces Kecmanovic in first match

Photo credit: Mutua Madrid Open Instagram

By Ricky Dimon

Rafael Nadal has been out for almost two months and his comeback at the Mutua Madrid Open could be a tough one.

Before he can look ahead to potential showdowns with Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals and Novak Djokovic in the semis, Nadal will begin his week against Miomir Kecmanovic during second-round action on Wednesday. Kecmanovic is playing by far the best tennis of his career right now. The 22-year-old Serb is No. 18 in the race to Turin and his 6-4, 7-5 victory over Alexander Bublik on Tuesday tied him for third with Alcaraz on the ATP wins list (only Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev have more).

“I’m playing with a lot more patience–a lot more understanding of the game, and what can I do with what ball at what time,” Kecmanov commented. “Not just trying to hit winners like on hard courts or grass. I’m better physically now, I can run more, hold intensity longer, so all those things help me to play better on clay.”

The world No. 32 reached at least the quarterfinals at his previous six tournaments leading into Madrid and in the last five the player he lost to either won the title or finished runner-up.

In other words, it takes something special to beat Kecmanovic at the moment. Will Nadal be able to deliver those kinds of goods? The 35-year-old Spaniard has not played since sustaining a rib injury in Indian Wells, where he beat Alcaraz in the semis despite being less than 100 percent and then lost to Taylor Fritz.

It should also be noted that Madrid is nowhere near Nadal’s best clay-court tournament. The 21-time Grand Slam champion has won it five times, but he has lost prior to the final in three consecutive appearances. In fact, the spring clay-court swing as a whole has been relatively underwhelming for Nadal in recent years. He won two such titles in both 2019 and 2021–a good number by anyone else’s standards, but not by his (an abbreviated clay schedule was moved to the fall in 2020, when Nadal lost in the Rome quarters but then won the French Open without dropping a set).

Gone are the days when the King of Clay dominates all of these events basically with his eyes closed. Given that he is coming off a two-month absence and facing one of the hottest players on tour who already has a match under his belt this week, an upset could be in the cards.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.