For Rafael Nadal, Every Win Is An Opportunity In Brisbane

Rafael Nadal (photo: Tennis Australia/Scott Davis)

BRISBANE/WASHINGTON, January 4, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

Make no mistake, Rafael Nadal is arguably the happiest man in tennis. He is excited to be back on the tennis court playing the sport that has rewarded him with many happy days and nights over the past two decades, including winning 20 major titles. Nadal is proving to himself – to his fans and to the tennis world – that every win is an opportunity.

“I am excited to have the chance to play another time,” Nadal said Tuesday after winning his first-round match at the Brisbane International presented by Evie in Australia. “That’s for me the most important thing.” He has hinted that 2024 may be his last season on the ATP Tour.

After successfully returning to the ATP Tour after a 349-day absence with an impressive victory over former World No. 3 Dominic Thiem, the 1,069th of his remarkable career to move into fourth place all-time, Nadal was given another prime, early-evening spot in Thursday’s order of play, facing Australian wild card Jason Kubler inside Pat Rafter Arena at Queensland Tennis Centre.

Nadal aimed to reach his 225th career tour-level quarterfinal and first since 2022 at Wimbledon against the 102nd-ranked Kubler, who was hoping to advance to only his third ATP Tour quarterfinal and first on his home soil. From first ball to last, it was all Nadal. He dismantled Kubler, 6-1, 6-2, in an economical 83 minutes.

“I think I started the match playing very well, with a very good determination,” the 672nd-ranked Nadal said during his on-court interview afterward. “I saw videos of Jason before the match and I saw him playing very solidly from the baseline, so I came on court and tried to be aggressive with my shots from the baseline.

“It worked very well. I think it was a very positive match for me and the chance to play again tomorrow means a lot to me. Two victories after a long time being outside of the professional Tour is something that makes me feel good. I’m happy for that.”

Nadal, who came in 9-1 in his last 10 matches against Australians and 36-9 lifetime, powered his way to victory by winning 12 of the first 13 points of the second-round match – including an ace on the opening point – and never looked back. Not even a time violation for taking too long to change his sweaty kit in between sets could dampen his enthusiasm. Although Nadal said he was pretty sure he changed within the five-minute limit, there was little else Kubler could do to stop the 37-year-old Spaniard, who closed out the match with a solid backhand winner that capped a nine-shot rally.

Kubler managed to win just three games off Nadal, who finished his second straight win with 20 winners, including four aces. Nadal won 80 percent of his first-serve points — dropping just six points on his first serve — and saved all four break points he faced. He broke the 30-year-old Kubler four times in six tries and outpointed him 58-34 to advance against another Australian, No. 55 Jordan Thompson, who earlier received a walkover win against No. 4 seed Ugo Humbert of France.

“Most of the time I have been playing well, doing the things that I need to do,” Nadal said later during his news conference. ” Yeah, happy for the victory. Of course, it’s important for me. It’s important tomorrow I’m going to be playing again. That’s all important for me at this point.”

Around the Queensland Tennis Centre

No. 2 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who lifted the Brisbane trophy in 2017, moved into the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 56 Daniel Altmaier of Germany. It followed a three-set, first-round win by the 14th-ranked Dimitrov over former World No. 1 Andy Murray of Great Britain earlier this week.

On Friday, Dimitrov will face 71st-ranked Australian wild card Rinky Hijikata, who advanced past 78th-ranked qualifier Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic, 5-7, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

The other quarterfinals will pair No. 1 seed Holger Rune of Denmark, ranked eighth, against 116th-ranked Australian qualifier James Duckworth and No. 39 Roman Safiullin of Russia versus No. 44 Matteo Arnaldi of Italy.

By the numbers

With his victory Thursday, Grigor Dimitrov has the most wins in Brisbane tournament history. The 2017 titlist is 20-7 lifetime in Queensland.

“Quotable …”

I need matches, I need health. I need to keep practicing well and of course the past two matches here help, and even the doubles on the first day, too. Of course, victories and hours spent on court help. For me, every day that I have a chance to play is great news, so I’m just happy for that, happy that I came back after a long time and I feel competitive. Let’s see how far I can go.”

Rafael Nadal of Spain, during his on-court interview, after reaching the quarterfinals in his first tournament back in nearly 12 months.